OPINION COLUMNS

Board proposes budget for next biennium

By Ed Sterling | Published Saturday, November 24, 2012

To pass a budget bill is the Texas Legislature’s main job, but it is the 10-member Legislative Budget Board’s job to propose how much money the state may spend.

At a Nov. 15 public hearing, the Board offered up a 2014-2015 two-year state budget capped at $78 billion per year, observing the constitutional spending limit. Comptroller Susan Combs has another couple of months to share her revenue forecast with the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

The 83rd Texas Legislature is scheduled to convene on Jan. 8. Among a multitude of budget considerations are: (1) a state population projected to be greater than 27 million people; (2) the business climate; (3) public health; (4) public education; (5) public safety, law enforcement and prisons; (6) roads, highways and bridges; (7) local governmental institutions and more.

Members of the Legislative Budget Board, to whom much is entrusted, are joint chairs Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and five appointees: Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Reps. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Remember, however: the Legislature relies on the office of the state comptroller to do the critical job of forecasting the amount of revenue that will be available to pay for it all. Comptroller Combs and crew are busy looking at tax collections, non-tax revenue, unspent funds from the current budget and the option to transfer in billions of dollars from the Economic Stabilization Fund, known widely as the Rainy Day Fund.

Five months ago, the governor and the Legislative Budget Board directed state agencies to find 5 percent in savings for fiscal 2014 and another 5 percent in savings for fiscal 2015.

SEQUESTRATION PANEL NAMED

House Speaker Straus on Nov. 12 named an interim panel to recommend ways Texas can prepare for what now is commonly referred to as the “fiscal cliff” – a mix of federal tax increases and spending reductions poised to take effect at the end of the year unless Congress takes actions to avoid the cliff.

The panel, titled Interim Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration, will report its findings to the speaker by Jan. 7, the day before the 2013 Texas Legislature convenes.

House members named to the panel include Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, chair; Republican Reps. Cindy Burkett, Mesquite; Brandon Creighton, Conroe; Dan Flynn, Canton; Jodie Laubenberg, Rockwall; and Charles Perry, Lubbock; and Democratic Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Austin; Craig Eiland, Galveston; Naomi Gonzalez, El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III, San Benito.

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