When members of the Texas House meet on Monday, they will take the next-to-last step in busting the state’s spending cap. This coming in a session that has produced no lasting budget reforms and no real tax relief, despite a biennium with the largest jump in state revenues in modern history. Worse, legislators are poised to do so with a massive draw from the rainy day fund.
The Senate foolishly voted last week for a constitutional amendment drawing $6 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, which is commonly called the rainy day fund. That fund was set up, constitutionally, to cover budget shortfalls – instead, lawmakers are looking to tap it for new spending programs. Not only does the Senate’s $6 billion leave us prey to economic instability, it will likely lead to a downgrade of the state’s credit rating.
Not to be out-done, members of the Texas House are slated to vote Monday for their own draw — $2 billion to “fund water.” Obviously, water infrastructure is a big deal – and very important. If the state did nothing (we’re told with grimaces and frowns), Texas runs out of water by 2050 or later.
But the state isn’t doing nothing, water projects are underway and billions in funding is available; how to do more, faster and better is the question.
The problem with HB11 isn’t the need for water infrastructure, it’s how the Legislature has chosen to fund it. If water is such a priority, why not fund it from the overflowing General Revenues in the regular budget? (It can be improved.)
Republican lawmakers campaigned on the Texas Budget Compact: a set of promises that have gone mostly unfulfilled. Even though 94% of GOP primary voters on the 2012 ballot supported strong spending limits, for example, legislators have refused to move those reforms.
Worse, they are about to light a short fuse blowing the lid off the loose limit currently in place!
Some House members will say this new draw from the rainy day fund for HB11 won’t technically bust the cap. That’s a distinction without a difference, and slightly intellectually dishonest to boot.
Both chambers passed a state budget, each coming within a few hundred million dollars of the constitutional cap. Now the House will vote for $2 billion in this non-emergency spending – exceeding the budget cap. They will legalistically claim their Monday vote to spend the money doesn’t bust the cap… that for-sure vote will come later. But make no mistake, their vote for HB11 – not the formality of the final budget vote – makes busting the cap inevitable.
( It is possible for HB11 to be improved by keeping the spending under the constitutional spending limit, using GR funds, and pushing the draw until the end of the new budget cycle.)
Legislative leaders – from Speaker Joe Straus on down – are reportedly promising some conservatives that if they will just vote for this $2 billion draw and set the stage for busting the cap, then they will now move some of the conservatives’ legislation. Just trust them. Trust them? Isn’t this a GOP majority? Shouldn’t that conservative legislation be moving anyway? But it’s not.
(Remember: this is the same House leadership which keeps scheming for ways to implement ObamaCare in Texas by expanding Medicaid. Another Medicaid expansion push is rumored to be on its way to the floor this week.)
Conservative legislators voting for bad policies in the hopes of getting good legislation to move might do well to remember that selling out will rarely provide the pay-day they expect.
Others may scheme, but we have to stand on principle, and fight with valor and integrity.
Lawmakers started with a lot of promises, and even more money. They’ve blown through the cash, and are trying to grab even more. And thanks to a leadership undermining conservatives, those pledges are evaporating faster than water in August.
Image located at: Texas Tech University.