As Congress jousts with itself and the White House in the closing days of 2012 over the federal budget, the Texas Legislature and other state legislatures can only guess what federal dollars will be coming when budget-writing time comes.
Every two years, the Texas Legislature’s main job is to write and pass a state budget. Now, with the governor signaling his intention to stick with an austerity plan that won’t necessarily be in step with the state’s rapidly growing population, historically bad drought and a long list of other critical concerns, suspense about the budget increases day by day. The budget-adoption process is a session-long affair, and the 140-day session commences on Jan. 8, at high noon.In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature adopted a 2012-2013 budget (the General Appropriations Act) featuring across-the-board spending cuts, per governor’s directives. Texans can see a roadmap to those cuts, and may imagine the debating that went on before the budget ultimately was called to a vote, signed by the governor and certified by the comptroller. Actually, the debating does not have to be imagined. It is preserved at legis.state.tx.us.
Texans with access to a relatively recently manufactured personal computer updated with the current software for viewing archived video, can – if they pay for a speedy Internet connection or visit their local library – download, view and hear the parts of the budget-writing process conducted in Capitol committee rooms and on the floors of the state House and state Senate.
Furthermore, to provide Texas taxpayers “with a more complete understanding of how their tax dollars are being used,” the staff of the Legislative Budget Board has posted a 668-page document, titled “Fiscal Size-up” for the current 2012-2013 budget. Anyone with a library card or a relatively recently manufactured personal computer, updated with the current software for viewing documents, can, with a fast-enough Internet connection, download the lengthy document and read it at their leisure.
But owing to the lack of space here, and in deference to readers who choose the printed-page version of their community newspaper, let’s skip to the summary of the “Fiscal Size-up.” It says the 2012-13 budget included appropriations for state operations that total $173.5 billion – an amount composed of $81.3 billion from General Revenue Funds, $54.7 billion from Federal Funds, $31.2 billion from Other Funds and $6.4 billion from General Revenue-Dedicated Funds.
Although the Fiscal Size-up was published only months after the end of the 2011 legislative session, it foretells something that has remained true since its publication: revenue then was above expectations. See the paragraphs labeled “Recent Trends and Fiscal Horizon” at the end of the summary. They contain information that forms a more complete picture.
And much more recently, on Dec. 21, Comptroller Susan Combs said, “Job growth, sales tax collections – both from business and consumer purchases – as well as automobile sales, signal that the Texas economy has emerged from the recent recession. Another indicator that the state’s economy has been comparatively healthy was the U.S. Census Bureau report that Texas added more people (421,000) than any other state from 2010 to 2011. Although Texas has only 8 percent of the nation’s population, the state added nearly 19 percent of the nation’s population growth for the year.”
Looking back a full year ago, Combs said: “By December 2011, Texas employers replaced all 427,600 jobs shed during the recession as our economy rebounded more quickly than the U.S. as a whole, and continues to add jobs.” And finally, Combs said, “Texas and the nation returned to economic growth in 2010 and 2011. In 2011, Texas real gross domestic product grew by 2.4 percent, compared with 1.6 percent GDP growth for the nation.”
These official analyses may point to a healthy fiscal condition for the state as 2013 begins, but as elders among us warn, you never know what’s going to happen when the Texas Legislature is in session.
14 RECEIVE CLEMENCY
As is customary at the end of each year, the governor grants clemency to a list of Texans who were convicted of certain offenses.
Gov. Rick Perry on Dec. 21 announced he had granted clemency to 14 individuals after each of their cases was recommended for clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. A description of each is available at governor.state.tx.us.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines clemency as “Mercy or leniency, especially, the power of the President or a governor to pardon a criminal or commute a criminal sentence.”
Ed Sterling is the mentor services director for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.