Texas Comptroller Gives Legislature More Money to Spend
But don't go crazy y'all
Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the most normal dude in the state GOP leadership, kicked off the 2019 legislative frenzy Monday with the release of his Biennial Revenue Estimate – the amount of money that lawmakers cannot exceed in the new state budget. The magic number for the 2020-21 biennium is $119.1 billion, an 8.1% increase over his estimate from two years ago, as the state's tax collector reported healthy increases in sales tax revenue and levies on oil and gas production, motor vehicles and their fuels, and suchlike.
But don't go buy a new school system just yet! Hegar, as usual, sounded notes of caution in his BRE release, which for previous comptrollers has been an occasion for major grandstanding. "The Legislature will again face some difficult choices in balancing this budget," he said, citing both the need to close expected (Medicaid) and surprise (Harvey) shortfalls in the current biennium, as well as the inexorable pressure for "a potentially large boost in education spending to reduce the property tax burden and reform school finance."
That "large boost" could be only what's needed to plug the hole blasted into school funding by Gov. Greg Abbott's property tax "relief," or it could mean real new investment in education quality. In either event, it will likely involve going beyond the $119.1 billion BRE into the state's ever-bloating rainy day fund, which would grow to $15.4 billion by 2021 – even after voter-approved diversions for highway spending. This overstuffed mattress full of Texans' cash, just sitting there, clearly bothers Hegar, who's already gotten the Lege to let him invest some of it to at least keep up with inflation. This year, he continues his quest to create a "Texas Legacy Fund" to capitalize on the new energy boom, as long as it lasts, and build a permanent endowment that can generate higher returns to spend on, say, schools, or pensions. His plan already has support from both parties but still needs to make it through the legislative gauntlet.