Growing Texas will strain tight budget seams
AUSTIN — You as parents can all relate to this as well as I, a father, can also witness. It's what happened every year as my offspring approached the start of a new season, let alone a new school year. The clothes I bought for them last summer, last fall, just didn't fit anymore. I had to dig down and spend money to accommodate growth.
Each year Texas, a state that's projected to have almost 33 million residents by 2030, has added hundreds of thousands of new citizens. All will need housing. All will need some way to navigate roads and highways that grow more congested by the day. Many will have children who will add to the annual count of more than 80,000 new students who enter Texas' public schools each year. No more than we can squeeze our kids into the clothes they wore two years ago, can we expect to bind up population growth with the spending patterns of the last two biennia.
But today, budget proposals announced by both chambers of the legislature do just that. Actually, alterations made add a little breathing room in some places, but make for an even tighter fit elsewhere. Funding projections are based on the methodologies developed to calculate growth, which sometimes presents a challenge within itself.
The initial 2014-15 budget announced by the Senate proposes $186.8 billion over the two year cycle. The House arrived at $187.7 billion. Both figures are less than the $189.9 billion appropriated for FY12-13. They make true on leadership promises to hold tight on the fiscal reins and dim optimism over last week's budget revenue estimate that said Texas is shedding the dark economic outlook of the past recession.
There are glimmers of hope with Monday's announcement by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams that the state would fund for public school growth over the next budget cycle. In addition, both Senate and House budgets include funding for anticipated Medicaid caseload growth during 2014-15; an improvement from the FY12-13 plan that left a $4.7 billion healthcare bill that must be resolved over the next few months by budget writers. Under the Senate proposal the state will spend $95.2 billion in general revenue, up from $93.8 billion in the current budget.
We all realize that the keys to Texas' economic future must be placed in the hands of an educated workforce. We also know that the cost of college can sometimes make those keys hard to reach. That's why the state must provide a boost to those efforts by restoring cuts made to higher education funding for both institutions and students. However, neither budget version heads in that direction.
While the costs of tuition and fees at state colleges and universities have increased by an estimated 90 percent since deregulation, state support for the same has gone the opposite direction. Higher education funding was cut by more than $900 million under the current budget. Neither Senate nor House plans restore funding, and may in fact, provide even less for colleges in FY14-15. Still left lacking are firm plans to finance transportation infrastructure and future water needs.
We must get back on course if Texas business and industry is to be supplied with the workforce it needs. Texas is on the verge of exploring new principles of economics and physics. In theory, some say we can successfully plan to contract and expand at the same time. Such an outcome may also defy logic.
For more information, please call Kelvin Bass at 512-463-0123.