Texas

Texas Starts Budget Debate Flush With Energy Boom Cash

by David Mildenberg, Bloomberg.com  |  published on January 9, 2013

Legislators in Texas, the biggest energy producer among U.S. states, will begin deliberating its next two-year budget with a surplus forecast today to match an $8.8 billion record set in 2007.

The Texas economy has topped budget projections over the past 15 months, as booming energy output fueled job growth and an 11 percent fiscal first-quarter gain in sales-tax receipts, the biggest source of general-fund revenue. Even after paying off $7 billion in health and school bills, Comptroller Susan Combs said today that the state will be flush heading into 2014.

Lawmakers, who convene tomorrow for a five-month session, in 2011 put off about $4.7 billion in future Medicaid costs and $2 billion for public schools under the current budget, and now must pay those bills. With Combs projecting an $8.8 billion surplus by Aug. 31 and a 12 percent jump in general-purpose receipts for the next two years, Democrats sense an opening.

“Given that we’re seeing an increase in revenue, let’s use this opportunity to fix those things that those in control of the budget have broken,” said state Senator Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat.

“Some people clearly want to starve the necessities of our people, things like schools, health care and transportation.”

Republicans hold all statewide elective offices and run the Legislature. Party leaders don’t want Texas to revert to a pattern that prevailed from 1990 to 2010, when spending rose at twice the pace of population and per-capita income growth, said Talmadge Heflin, a fiscal policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes limited government.

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