The Austin Chronicle

Budget Imbalance, Yet Again

By Richard Whittaker, January 16, 2013, 11:59pm, Newsdesk

The House and Senate have their work cut out: Putting together new budgets when infrastructure and institutions are crumbling, and the far right likes the sound they make as they collapse. Still, with their outline budgets submitted, it seems they're happy for the crashing and smashing to continue.

According to House Appropriations Committee Chair, his proposal in House Bill 1 for $89.155 billion in general revenue spending allocates "$3.7 billion less than allowed by the Constitutional Spending Limit and $5.5 billion." In other words, it has a heft buffer between what he proposes, what his interpretation of the Constitution says he can go to, and what Comptroller Susan Combs forecasts will be in the kitty for the next couple of years.

However, Pitts' proposal, and the even stingier Senate draft in Senate Bill 1, do nothing to restore the massive cuts passed last session. Hardline Republicans have talked enthusiastically (and moderates and Democrats fearfully) about the 2012-13 budget as the 'new normal'. Agencies endured swinging cuts, employees were laid off, services and resources were crippled, and a horrifying $5.4 billion disappeared from public education. This time around, Pitts and Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams both at least propose covering the cost of student enrollment growth, but neither suggests doing anything to put back that $5.4 billion.

In some places, the new normal was a ceiling, not a floor. Four articles – Judiciary, Natural Resources, Business & Economic Development, and Regulatory – all see substantial cuts, after already enduring massive hamstringing in the 2012-13 cycle.

The worst damage (as if you couldn't guess) may come in education. Article III, which covers public schools and higher ed, sees an overall drop from $47.188 billion in 2012-13 to $47.118 for 20134-15. However, while public schools see a slight increase of $302 million, Higher Education spending would fall by $372.6 million.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities has already savaged the drafts. Its analysts argue that, contrary to all the 'new normal' talk, neither SB1 or HB1 actually tracks with current spending. Using numbers from the Legislative Budget Board, they argue that the state will be at least $8 billion short of at least running in place, and $20 billion shy of what they would need to return to 2010-11's pitiful standards.

And for anyone interested in how the relationship between the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry is looking, the budget bills give a clue. Neither draft has any money for his favored and controversial Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Article Appropriated 2012-13
LBB Needs Estimate
I: General Government 2.92 2.72 2.26 2.457
II: Health and Human Services 23.868 28.837 28.44 30.959
III: Education 48.41 47.118 47.34 53.34
IV: Judiciary 0.466 0.38 0.38 N/A
V: Public Safety 8.375 8.496 8.508 8.372
VI: Natural Resources 1.685 0.647 0.647 N/A
VII: Business & Economic Development 0.965 0.780 0.782 N/A
VIII: Regulatory 0.649 0.266 0.266 N/A
IX: General Provisions 0 0 0 N/A
X: Legislature 0.339 0.357 0.357 N/A
Total $87.670 $89.155 billion $88.981 billion $97.2 billion

Copyright © 2017 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.