Senator West says budget surplus should address state's needs
AUSTIN — Yesterday, State Comptroller Susan Combs released the state's biennial budget revenue estimate as proscribed by the Texas Constitution. It's results confirmed that Texas has truly emerged from the tough fiscal times brought to bear by the Great Recession. The comptroller announced that Texas' coffers will have an estimated $101.4 billion in general revenue in its coffers, more than enough to cover expenses over the 2014-15 budget cycle. Needless to say this comes as great news, but the $101.4 billion question is how Texas will spend its newfound riches.
The current estimate exceeds the roughly $81 billion the Legislature established for the current 2012-13 biennium by 12.4 percent, with some $96.2 billion to be collected in taxes and fees. Texas consumers are responsible for 64 percent of those revenues which arrived via the sales tax; which is the states' largest source of funding. That is a fact that is not likely to ever change, given that one of Texas' selling points in attracting thousands of new residents each week is that it has no state income tax. But since so much of our income comes from Texas households, it seems only fair that some of those resources should be reinvested in the citizens who will help propel the Texas economy into an even more prosperous future.
When you add in another projected $112 billion in dedicated revenue and federal funds our All Funds total for 2014-15 should total some $208 billion. The comptroller also announced that by the end of fiscal 2013 the economic stabilization fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund should have some $8.8 billion tucked away. It is estimated that by the end of FY15 that the Rainy Day Fund will have grown to $11.8 billion. But how will everyday Texans fare?
Last Session, we decided that it would be better to cut education funding by more than $5 billion than to consider new revenue. We as state budget writers and policy makers also chose not to fund Medicaid in the current budget and instead pushed forward to now, a $4.7 billion tab. That balance forward will be settled by the 83rd Legislature which in turn sheds doubt as to whether education cuts will be restored. Some state leaders have already said no.
I agree with Gov. Perry, who in his address to the Senate on opening day said that we should pay our bills when they come due. I also agree with him that dedicated funds built from fees collected from citizens should be used for their intended purposes.
My track record will show that education has been and is my emphasis for young Texans past, present and future. So when you ask how revenue in excess of expenses should be allocated, restoring funding cuts to public schools is at the top of my list. And since education does not end with grade 12, lets also fulfill the promise we made to college students by fully supporting Texas GRANTS. There's no doubt that our future is tied to an educated workforce and turning our backs on the needs of tomorrow does not delay what's on the horizon. We can address it now, or face a less promising future later.