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The Texas Budget Boondoggle Part 2:

By JoAnn Fleming, Chair, Citizen Advisory Committee to the TEA Party Caucus of the Texas Legislature; volunteer Executive Director of Grassroots America – We the People 

Contact:  (903) 360-2858 or jafleming3@juno.com 

“Don’t Spend All the Money!”  Heard that from several stumping the campaign trails?  Before you get stars in your eyes, you might want to check into the facts a bit before buying into all of the campaign sloganeering. 

In spite of all the glowing rhetoric about how state leadership has done such a masterful job of not raising taxes and cutting spending, the truth lies somewhere just beyond that rainbow.  We just can’t let them get away with the spin. Texas is not the Land of Oz; and the fairy-tale budget logic has to go.  We just can’t afford it any more. 

And just so we keep the timeline straight, no public official is getting clothes-lined here. Nobody’s getting ambushed.  This follow-up message to our first Texas Budget Boondoggle Report should come as no surprise to anyone out campaigning.  Our message throughout the legislative session, during the special session, and after the budget was passed and signed by the Governor has remained the same.   We cannot support this budget because Texans do not need, do not want, and do not deserve the same kind of spending and budget trickery that goes on in Washington, D.C. 

True, there were substantial cuts in some areas. Indeed, $12.1 billion in cuts came from the one-time federal stimulus funds.  The overriding issue is this — we cannot support the budget because it has once again been balanced with poison pills – accounting gimmicks, deferrals, one-time fixes, tax payment speed-ups for some businesses, and a “Medicaid credit card.”  We cannot support the crony capitalism that doles out tax dollars and steers some pretty lucrative perks to chosen “winners.”  We cannot support a budget that continues to ignore the high cost of illegal aliens to this state because there’s no political stomach for interior enforcement of the rule of law.  

The planned state budget deficit for 2013 comes to $7.1 billion.  How did we arrive at this number?  There’s no complicated chart or formula (simple math at work here).   A $2.3 billion payment deferral to the Foundation School Program + an underfunded Medicaid caseload growth estimated at $4.8 billion = a $7.1 billion budget deficit.   The pure, unvarnished truth is – the Rainy Day Fund is spent!    

The numbers we use for the minimum expected shortfall for 2013 have been verified by statewide conservative organizations and confirmed by our own research.  The only way the Rainy Day Fund is not tapped in 2013 for this planned deficit will be the convergence of several miracles.  The Medicaid/Health & Human Services caseload growth will have to drop precipitously and state revenues will have to exceed projections.  We don’t see either of those two things coming to pass.  So while we appreciate no increase in state taxes, state government remains anti-taxpayer because it still plans to spend way more than it takes in, and the way the state funds public education helps drive up local property taxes.  This is unsustainable. 

Adding insult to injury, the state budget contains $500 million in overt pork spending for Fortune 500 companies (advertising grants and other goodies) and $25 million for Formula One Racetrack funding in Austin.  We asked the Governor to line item veto this nonsense.  He did not.  Every time we got Formula One stripped out in the House and Senate, the Budget Conference Committee – urged on by state leadership – raised it from the dead and put it back into the budget.  It is not within the basic, core constitutional function of state government to act as an investment banker or venture capitalist for the entertainment industry or to act as a central economic planner by earmarking tax dollars for certain business interests. 

The fully volunteer and “funded from our own pockets” TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee worked very hard this session on spending issues.  We watched as certain Republicans struck down amendment after amendment that would have made sensible cuts to state spending.  We did not get our favored 2-year hiring freeze, even though the freeze would have exempted law enforcement, the state courts system, and corrections.  

Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) led the charge to strike down budget amendments calling for a 5% state employee pay cut for those making more than $60,000 per year, a 5% cut for those making over $100,000 per year, and a 10% cut for those making more than $200,000 per year.  [Note: teachers are not state employees, thus were not under consideration in these proposed cuts, but statewide elected officials were!]   

There were no taxpayer protections this session.  Leadership shut out bills for appraisal district relief, spending caps, and curtailing services to illegal aliens.  Likewise, there was no real interest from House or Senate leadership for zero-based budgeting or restructuring state government to streamline numerous overlapping, duplicative departments, agencies, commissions, and programs.  There was zero leadership from the top to identify and eliminate spending that falls outside the core constitutional functions of state government.  To put this lack of bold, decisive leadership into perspective, remember the elements present during this year’s legislative session: a huge budget shortfall, an out-of-control federal government, a constituency calling for less government, a super-majority of Republicans in the House, self-proclaimed “conservative” leaders Speaker Straus and Lt. Governor Dewhurst, and “Don’t Spend all the Money” Governor Perry.  We expected more – much, much more.  After all, none of these folks ran as big-spending, big government advocates, but as conservative problem-solvers!  

But yes, Virginia, they did spend all the money.  It’s just that all the bills aren’t in yet, but in 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislative session will be awash in a sea of red ink.   Short of some pretty big miracles, the budget struggles of the 82nd Legislative session will pale in comparison.  It will be tough.  It will be messy, and some folks running for higher office are hoping they won’t be around when the calls for “Clean up on aisle nine!” go out. 

If this sounds harsh, so be it.   We live in harsh times.  Liberty is at stake.  The more government spends and grows, the less we are free.   In Texas, we plan on living free.  That’s why we won’t back down. 

Coming soon:  “2013 Go Forward Solutions:  The TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee’s Plan to Put State Government into a State Constitution-sized Box”

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