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An Unconvincing Start for the Texas Legislative Budget Board

By JoAnn Fleming 

The vote by the Legislative Budget Board to set the state spending limit was really the first vote for the upcoming legislative session and will be scored as such by those who size up voting records. The LBB’s action sends voters a signal and sets the tone for the upcoming legislative session. They are off to an unconvincing start. 
LBB Straus and Dewhurst
It is important to remember that “all funds” state spending has grown at more than twice the rate of population and inflation since 1990. Our state’s practice of maximizing the pull down of federal dollars helped fuel the increased spending. Now that Texas is no longer a “donor state,” (Texans paying in more federal taxes than the state receives back) the excuses for chasing federal dollars fall a bit flat. In the past eight years, Texas got more out of the federal Treasury than Texans paid in.[Source: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20120805-texas-can-no-longer-complain-that-it-gives-more-than-it-gets-from-federal-government.ece
The LBB vote for a state spending limit greater than population growth and inflation opens the door to a budget that increases the cost of government on every Texan. Texas families and small businesses can ill afford more government spending as new federal health care taxes kick in on top of the payroll tax, investment tax, estate tax and income tax increases looming from the federal government on January 1, 2013.
The LBB was told during the meeting that a population-plus-inflation limit would be9.85% for the biennium; the board then adopted the growth rate of 10.71%provided by the Office of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.
The LBB’s staff presented five forecasts of 2014-15 Texas personal income growth ranging from 8.71% by the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development to 12.21% by Moody’s Analytics. The LBB voted unanimously to choose the 10.71% estimate from the comptroller’s office, which was the second-lowest forecast, but still higher than the 9.85% population-plus-inflation limit.
We appreciate the verbal commitments made by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams that the Senate’s budget will not exceed the rate of population growth and inflation, but we urge the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker, and Comptroller to strengthen the Lt. Governor’s position when they finally set the state spending limit during the next 10 days.
While the commitments from the Lt. Governor and Senate Finance Chairman Williams sound at least promising, comments from the House side of the LBB sent up red flags – especially those from the Republicans who engaged in verbal backslapping about their sterling records of fiscal restraint. Truth is – the highest conservative rating from the House side of the LBB is a C+ average from the past three years. The others are all C, D, and F-rated. Their poor fiscal conservative records, added to Speaker Straus’s stance that “you can’t cut your way to prosperity,” mean we will be counting on the House’s senior fiscal hawks and the conservative freshmen to curtail spending in the House version of the state budget. [Straus quote from http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_19211497]
We are pleased to have a commitment from the Lt. Governor that he will work to end the series of gimmicks used in the past to help balance the budget. That’s good news, since Texans don’t expect their state leaders to use Washington DC-styled tricks to balance the state’s budget in the first place. We expect our state officials to do what small businesses and families are doing – bracing for higher costs and the impact of a $16 trillion and growing federal debt.
Texas must get its fiscal house in order, while properly funding the core functions of state government. To do that, our state must 1) stop handing out tax dollars to big business and crazy, non-essential spending on things like Formula One racing for Austin; 2) end fraud, waste and abuse in Medicaid and other social services, and 3) cut wasteful duplicative state departments, agencies and programs. There’s more – many more ways to reduce spending, but serious attention to these three items would be a much more convincing start to the legislative session by our statewide officials and state legislators. 
JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director (volunteer), Grassroots America – We the People www.gawtp.com   

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