Peggy Fikac of the The Houston Chronicle writes that Texas lawmakers are in a quandry during this session because:
Before a free hand with spending is a possibility, lawmakers must grapple with a constitutional spending cap.
Unless the cap is bypassed (lawmakers can vote to waive it), it limits their ability to spend billions of dollars and could keep them from fulfilling their promise to cut local school property tax rates.
State spending to lower local taxes counts against the cap just as spending on programs does.
Leaders say the cap wasn’t meant to apply to tax cuts, and have suggested a vote to break the cap could be tied to property tax relief.
It’s nice to know that (some) legislators realize that, from a budgetary perspective, lowering revenues by $X is the same as spending an additional $X. Math is not hard.
However, I would suggest that by spending $X less would allow the property tax reduction to be given – as promised, it must be noted – in such a way that no further deficits are created.
It should not be assumed by legislators and beneficiaries of state spending that the budget and their slice of the pie should and must automatically increase each and every year. Rather, the need for and availability of taxpayer funds should be taken together to drive the budgeting process.
Update @ 1/9/2007, 12:30 PM
Comptroller Susan Combs says there is $14.3 billion in unencumbered money available.
Squabbling for it has just begun, with senior analyst Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities saying the new money as built on the picked-over bones of programs for lower-income Texans. As for the $7 billion projected to be left over from the current two-year budget cycle. Says Lavine:
“The main reason for that is that in 2003, we cut the budget below bare bones. We haven’t even restored all those cuts yet.”
Governor Rick Perry’s statement:
“This surplus should reinforce our commitment to the principles and policies that helped create it. State leaders must continue to be fiscally disciplined, we must continue to set clear but limited priorities, and we must remember that every expenditure affects not only those who receive a government service, but also the taxpayers who pay for it.”
Hopefully Perry will stick to that line of thinking.