Flawed Limit

Despite 94 percent of Republican primary voters and 70 percent of Texas voters demanding a limit on government spending to no more than population and inflation, the Legislative Budget Board today voted to let lawmakers exceed that rate for the 2014-15 budget cycle. While some members of the LBB were pledging fidelity to producing a responsibly conservative budget, their actions will always speak louder than their words.

The LBB was told during the meeting that a population-plus-inflation limit would be 9.85%; the board then adopted the growth rate of 10.7% provided by the Office of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

Under our state constitution, the legislature defines the limit (never a wise idea) and in turn delegates that authority to the LBB, comprised of the lieutenant governor, House speaker, and their appointees (though which appointees are defined in statute).


The LBB voted for a state spending limit higher than population growth and inflation, the limit preferred by Texans.
Texans for a Conservative Budget, a coalition of conservative organizations (including TFR), today issued a statement saying the “LBB vote for a state spending limit greater than population growth and inflation opens the door to a budget that increases the cost of government on every Texan.”

At today’s meeting, the House Republicans on the LBB took turns patting each other on the back and proclaiming each true warriors in the cause of fiscal restraint who can be trusted to hold the line on spending. Hopefully they will. (Tea Party Caucus chair JoAnn Fleming has other thoughts.)

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced during the hearing that he wants the Senate to adopt a budget that increases spending no more than the rate of population and inflation. State Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands pledged that the budget his Finance Committee produces would do so (right before voting to set the budget growth limit higher than that). The budget process starts in the Senate this biennium.

I hope Mr. Williams produces such a budget; he is an honorable fellow who no doubt means it when he says it. Of course, there are 31 senators and 150 representatives who also get to weigh in on the subject, eroding his ability to keep that promise.

It’s probably fair to note that his job this spring producing for enactment such a budget would have been easier if he and his LBB colleagues had set the limit lower. The higher the limit, the more opportunity there is for spending mischief.

(For his part, Democratic State Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston said he doesn’t like having limits placed on drafting the budget.)

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has said publicly he wants the budget adopted in 2013 to undo the various gimmicks and tricks adopted last session and in previous years. That’s welcome news, even though doing so will likely require shifting dollars around — possibly even requiring the budget to technically exceed the spending limit. (Technically, because there wouldn’t actually be new dollars spent, just transfers between the various constitutionally and legislatively dedicated funds.)

During the hearing, Mr. Dewhurst asked the LBB staff to specifically note in writing that the commitment of the Senate was for their appropriation to be well within the population-plus-inflation limit. He should be congratulated for taking that stand.

It should be noted that the door isn’t finally closed on the spending limit. The governor, lieutenant governor, speaker and comptroller will formally set the rate in December.

That the LBB voted to exceed the limit supported by Texas’ voters is frustrating; not an encouraging signal for the session. It also doesn’t change the fact there is a lot of work to be done ahead — and opportunities for taxpayers and lawmakers alike to fight for a much-needed tight lid on state spending.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans, and its premier project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capital Hill staffer, think tank vice president and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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