Texas Legislature: What Should We Do With All This Money?
Texas Matters: State revenue numbers look good for this session of the legislature; there is even a surplus. Gov. Rick Perry suggests that the extra money be used to cut taxes, while others want to restore funding to education and health programs that took cuts in the last legislative session. Gun owners in Texas stand their ground as the federal government comes up with its next move to cut down on gun violence.
More money, more problems
The Texas legislature is back in business and business is good. That is to say that they have plenty of money to pay for everything in the state budget this legislative session.
At the start of the week they were given the news by State Comptroller Susan Combs that the state’s Biennial Revenue Estimate for 2014-2015 is a healthy $101.4 billion.
“Texas experienced a very strong rebound from a severe recession. The state’s robust economic recovery led to better-than-expected revenue collections in major taxes such as the sales tax, oil and natural gas production taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes. The outlook for both the economy and state revenue is for continuing expansion as the fast-growth of the economic recovery gives way to moderate, sustained growth,” said the comptroller.
The state’s general revenue collections from taxes, fees and other income is estimated to be $96.2 billion for the 2014-2015 biennium, of which about $3.6 billion would be set aside for future transfers to the rainy day fund.
This leaves approximately $92.6 billion in net general revenue. Adding to that is a projected $8.8 billion ending balance from the current biennium, giving the Legislature the estimated $101.4 billion for general- purpose spending for 2014-2015.
The state’s largest tax revenue source is the sales tax, which accounts for more than half the state’s general revenue. Sales tax is expected to generate approximately $54.9 billion in the 2014-15 biennium, a 9.4 increase from 2012-2013.
These new revenue numbers give Texas an $8.8 billion surplus – compared to two years ago when there was a $27 billion shortfall. However, Combs left the podium saying that just because the budget looks bright toda, it doesn’t mean we won’t be in the red again.
"We would all do well to remember the dramatic drop in revenues that occurred during the recession just as we recognize the dramatic and sharp increase that’s happened recently," warned Combs.
The day after Combs gave the state revenue estimate, the 83rd Legislature convened with Gov. Rick Perry delivering the opening remarks.
Perry surprised some lawmakers -- and irritated others -- when he suggested the surplus in the state budget should be used to make tax cuts instead of to restore the cuts from the last budget.
KERA’s Shelley Kofler has more on what the Governor had to say on the legislature’s first day of business.
You have got to be kidding me!
Count State Rep. Mike Villarreal, Dist. 123, among those who were gob smacked by the Perry proposal to cut taxes. The San Antonio Democrat says Texas needs that revenue to restore education spending slashed two years ago.
"We are already a low tax state. We are one of the lowest in terms of tax obligations, and we are also one of the states that has crumbling infrastructure and an inadequately funded public education system. So we need to take a reality check and make sure we do what I believe Texans want us to do and that is to cover the basics and pay our bills."
During his remarks Villarreal sounded flabbergasted, and often broke into laughter about what he sees as a foolish idea.
"You've got to think about the context that we live in. Number one: We couldn't pay our bills last session. We had to defer payment until the next budget cycle. Number two: We're in the middle of a lawsuit where our schools are suing the state for inadequate funding. Number three: The federal government is about to go through sequestration to some degree. Either the full amount that's currently built into that sequestration bill where we can expect approximately 8 percent cut in federal dollars coming to our state..."
The master of the state budget
Bob Williams looks at a lot of state budgets – the former legislator runs the website www.statebudgetsolutions.org – and he warns not to buy into the talk of a budget surplus in Texas.
In 2011 fiscal year:
"... 40 percent of all the money came from the federal government. Just a few years before that it was 33 percent; that's a 7 percent difference -- that's a big difference in the budget. I don't know how they can assume that they are going to continue to get that same amount of federal funds. Unfortunately when the legislature budgets they really don't look, they just assume the money is going to come in. They make no plans for what's going to happen if that is thinned out."
Dewhurst: Use State Money To Train Teachers With Guns
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst wants the state to provide money to better train concealed handgun carriers at schools.
State law allows the guns in schools if a district provides written permission, but Dewhurst says the training provided for a concealed weapons license isn’t thorough enough.
"I’m considering the state putting up funding for extra training because the training involved with the concealed handgun law license is not sufficient in my judgment to have that person trained for an event involving an active shooter," said Dewhurst.
Dewhurst weighed-in on the growing debate as Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said allowing concealed weapons in schools would better protect children.
The growing debate over allowing guns in schools for protection is dividing Texas lawmakers who will consider legislation on the issue.
From Our Cold Dead Hands!
President Barack Obama’s administration is expected to soon release proposals and maybe executive orders about gun ownership in America. There’s been a fever in the nation about easy availability of guns and ammo after a wave of deadly shootings.
Texas is a gun loving land. The Republic won its independence from Mexico through grit and gun power. Firearms and the right to defend yourself and your family are a significant parts of the state’s culture.
So many folks like Bill Titus are not taking kindly to proposals to tighten restrictions on gun ownership. Titus is a member of the board of directors of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association.
"I believe that this entire discussion is taking the wrong focus. What we have is a person who has committed a horrible act, and in response we are focusing on inanimate objects and we are focusing on things that might possibly be misused by persons, instead of focusing on the simple fact that a person chose to commit a horrific act. In other words we are making the gun the fault, and the gun did not create the situation any more than forks and spoons create obesity problems."