Although it wasn’t a surprise, there was more bad budget news coming out of the state Capitol today. The Big Three – Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus – instructed state agencies to cut another 10 percent from their appropriations requests for the 20122013 state budget, which will be drafted by the Legislature next year. This is on top of reductions averaging about 5 percent, which the same leaders recently ordered in current spending.
This slashing, of course, anticipates a revenue shortfall that has been projected as high as $18 billion when legislators convene in January. The top three state officials, all Republicans, are insistent on bridging the huge gap with budget cuts, not higher taxes, although the state’s existing tax structure is woefully inadequate and already falls short of meeting the legitimate public needs of a growing, urban state.
Before they do anything else, the governor and legislators should first spend all $9.6 billion that is expected to be available in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. This is a savings account, automatically fed by oil and gas severance taxes, which is available for spending on emergencies.
Already, though, there is resistance in Austin to spending the entire fund. The argument, however, makes no sense, except to antigovernment types who want to starve public services, including the public schools. It’s raining, folks. In fact, it’s pouring, and this is the type of budgetary emergency the Rainy Day Fund supposedly was designed to address.
Barring a change of leadership, not only in the governor’s office but also in the Legislature, I am under no illusions that lawmakers will jump at the opportunity to raise state taxes.
But it’s time for leaders who persist in calling for state agencies and everyone else to “tighten their belts” to start practicing what they preach, to start feeling some of the pain themselves. And, I don’t mean trimming employees from their payrolls.
In light of an $18 billion gap, this may be more symbolic than anything else, but Gov. Perry should move out of his $10,000 a month rental mansion in the Austin hills and move into more modest quarters. Or, he should pay his rent and utilities from his political funds. It is twofaced for the governor of Texas to be ordering painful cuts in jobs and services that are crucial to thousands of his constituents and then retreating to the comfort of his taxpayerfinanced villa.
According to a recent Associated Press story, the taxpayers have spent almost $600,000 during the past two years on rent, utilities and upkeep on a 6,386square foot, fivebedroom, sevenbath mansion with a gourmet kitchen and three dining rooms. The taxpayers’ tab has included $8,400 for maintenance on a heated pool, $1,001 in window coverings from Neiman Marcus and a $700 clothes rack.
Additionally, Perry has spent $130,000 from political funds for cable TV, entertainment and other services.
The governor also should close down the Texas Enterprise Fund and arrange with legislative leaders to transfer whatever is left in it into general revenue. And, the Legislature should kill the fund next year.
The fund has distributed more than $300 million to private companies since the Legislature created it, at Perry’s urging, in 2003. The governor’s office says the fund has helped attract more than 50,000 new jobs to Texas. But as the Associated Press recently noted in another story, some companies that received tax dollars are struggling to create all the jobs they promised to create. What’s more, no one knows how many of those companies would have moved to or expanded in Texas, even without the state’s financial incentives.
In any event, that money can be better spent now on public schools, health care or some other critical state need. Maybe it would even save some educators’ or state employees’ jobs.
Here are links to the two AP stories: