State Budget '09 Preview Part Two

There are thousands of moving parts to the mechanisms that create the Texas budget.
Lawmakers have spent most of the year doing preliminary work on the bill. But the machinery really gets going once ComptrollerξSusan Combs releases her revenue estimate.

Representative Garnet Coleman a Houston Democrat says the report, no matter the writer always has a tone of cautious desperation.

"There's never enough money, even when we have a surplus, becauseξthat is the first thingξthat budget-tiers say."

With the national recession there is no reason to think they same won't be the same this year. But at the same time this budget will be written when there couldξbe more need for social safety net programs. So far president-elect Barack Obama seems ready to help out by boasting federal spending.

Dick Lavine follows the budget for the Center for Public Policy Priorities a progressive policy think tank.

"They could just raise the match rate on the current, say health insurance program. So for every dollar the state would put in the federal government would put in more. Which would either save us money, or mean we could cover more people, because unfortunately, there may be more a lot more people needing help because of the economy."

But with other programs, like the Children Health Insurance program, federal eligibility expansion could only be utilized if theξstates spend some money too. Again Representative Coleman.

"There will beξa new chip bill in Congress it will probably go to 300-350 percentξof poverty. And if we don't fund that our federal money will go to another state."

The line of programs seeking more money in the new budget goes beyond social services. Public colleges and universities say they need more state help because of the stock market crash means less money coming from the school's endowments.

And the Texas population continues to boom, so just about every state service has more peopleξbuying for service. That includes enrollment growth alone an additional 2 billion dollars and lawmakers had previously promised an additionalξξ2 billion increase in overall schoolξfunding .

State Senator Steve Ogden and Florence Shapiro still hope that promise can be kept.

"Wait and see. Ya know, I hate talking about somethingξI haven't filed yet."

"It's our goal. It's our goal to have find a way to do that, but we are doing thatξright now."

"I think we can do it in the base budget."

There are a couple of factors that could help keep that promise. The state is currently sitting on a multibillion dollar revenue surplus. ξAlthough, exactly how much money that is has been hotly debated. And the state's rainy day fund,ξwhichξgets its money from oil and natural gas revenues,ξshould have a healthy balance thanks to previously high energy prices.

ButξξShapiro and Ogden say lawmakers need to make sure that the state leaves some of that in the bank forξthe next state budget processξduring the 2011 legislative session.

"I think it is very important that we look to the future. Nobody has the best crystal ball. Based on what we are seeing now, we have toξmake sure we are not in the hole in the next biennium."

"And dig us a hole we can't get out of."

"That's right"

The budget could hit the floor of the House and Senate in April.

Tags: News, Economy


Share Options