Almost overlooked in all the post-election news yesterday was an announcement that continues to predict a strong budgetary outlook for the Legislature next year. Whether public school students will benefit from the promising forecast, however, remains to be seen.
State Comptroller Susan Combs reported that state sales tax revenue for October totaled $2.41 billion, an increase of more than 12 percent from the amount collected in October 2013, according to an item buried among all the election coverage in The Dallas Morning News.
Sales tax receipts for September were 7.9 percent higher than during the same month a year earlier. And receipts for the previous fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, were up 5.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Rainy Day Fund balance has hit $8.4 billion and will continue to grow, fed by rising severance tax revenue from the oil and natural gas production boom.
This means the Legislature, when it convenes Jan. 13, will have billions of additional dollars to spend on state needs without raising anyone’s taxes, thanks to the state’s strong economy. Lawmakers will have enough money to immediately begin drafting an adequate and fair school finance system, as recently ordered by a state district judge.
What the Legislature actually does with the additional billions, however, will be decided by the officeholders elected on Tuesday, including a new governor and a new lieutenant governor, who so far seem more inclined to waste the opportunity.
In his role as attorney general, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott already has announced the state will appeal the school finance decision, denying much-needed, extra resources for school districts and their students for at least another year. And, Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, who voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts in 2011 and voted against the entire state budget in 2013, is calling for local property tax “relief.”
What Patrick apparently doesn’t realize is that the best way to provide relief from local school property taxes is for the state to pay more for public education, and the revenue outlook offers a great opportunity to do that and, at the same time, do what’s right for 5 million school children.