A New Budget Shell Game

Request for five percent agency spending cut doesn't add up

Dewhurst (l) and Straus: Two of the big three making five out of one
Dewhurst (l) and Straus: Two of the big three making five out of one (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus released a letter on Friday asking state agencies to submit plans to cut five percent from their biennial budget, approved back in June. It's so urgent that they must make their proposals by Feb. 15. Sounds like a scary shortfall, right? Actually, it's really for one percent.

In the letter, Perry et al. blame the "uncertainty of the state's short term economic future" for the cut (and, of course, get in a swipe at "potentially substantial long-term costs associated with the passage of federal legislation.") No mention of the structural deficit of Perry and Dewhurst's budget creation – the one that Straus has formed a select committee to examine (read The Four Horsemen of the Deficit for more on that).

Five percent sounds like a lot, but hang on. It's not the whole budget, just what's paid for by general revenue and gen rev-dedicated appropriations. On top of that, the request exempts a few items, including benefits and eligibility staffing levels for the Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and foster care, plus total exemptions for the Foundation School Program, debt service, and contributions to Social Security, the Teacher and Employees Retirement Programs and the Higher Education Fund. So, most of the budget.

If the entire biennial budget of $182.3 billion was on the table, the agencies would be looking to slice $9.1 billion out of expenditure. However, take out all the exempted and ring-fenced projects, and the total saving over the biennium is closer to $1.6 billion – less than one percent.

Of course, the question now is whether any of the big three – all of whom are up for re-election this year – will claim that they saved tax payers from covering a five percent deficit while also protecting Medicaid.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

MORE Rick Perry
No Nugent Is Good Nugent
No Nugent Is Good Nugent
GOP weeps over Nugent comments, but are these crocodile tears?

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 23, 2014

Texas Governor to Decriminalize Pot!
Texas Governor to Decriminalize Pot!
Perry claims progress … but the facts are not so plain

Jordan Smith, Jan. 24, 2014

More by Richard Whittaker
Help Find the Missing <i>Slacker</i> Cast and Crew
Help Find the Missing Slacker Cast and Crew
Austin, you can help connect the team with cash!

Nov. 26, 2020

More than laughs, more than addiction: a charming, tragic portrait of the Blues Brothers star

Nov. 27, 2020


State Budget, Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Joe Straus, Structural Deficit

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle