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How are you going to balance the budget?

If you’re thinking that the candidates for Governor are being a bit vague about how they’re going to deal with the looming budget shortfall, you’re not alone.

Texas expects a shortfall of at least $12 billion when lawmakers meet to write the next budget, but major candidates for governor have few specifics on how they would exert their leadership to close the gap.

“The silence is deafening,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville. “None of the candidates are really coming out with a plan or even an awareness of how bad the situation is.”

Asked how they would close the budget gap, the five major candidates suggest largely unspecified spending reductions.

[…]

The five’s suggestions leave more blanks than specifics as lawmakers prepare for a projected minimum budget gap of $12 billion to $13 billion, before accounting for expected population growth.

“You can’t just get there with a simple brush stroke. It’s going to require a fair amount of spending cuts, and probably they’re going to have to look at other things they can do to raise revenue as well,” said Dale Craymer, of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.

Yes, raising revenue has to be part of the solution, despite what the know-nothing types would like to make you believe. I’ll defend the lack of specificness to some degree, in that I’m sure everyone is hoping that the picture will improve a bit in the next few months, and no one wants to come across as too alarmist. In addition, it’s really the Legislature’s problem more than it is the Governor’s, since it’s the Lege that writes the budget. The Governor can effect some cost savings via the line-item veto, but he or she would be doing so to a budget that’s already been certified as being balanced. Mainly, the Governor can provide big picture guidance, plus the threat of vetoing a solution he or she deems unacceptable. As far as that goes, we really don’t know what’s truly off the table – Rick Perry, for example, has waffled quite a bit on the subject of the gas tax – which leaves us with this largely theoretical conversation.

Let’s also talk about casinos for a minute, since they were mentioned in the story. I’m at best ambivalent about an expansion of gambling in Texas, whether that means casinos or slot machines at racetracks or whatever. I probably would vote against any constitutional amendment authorizing an expansion of gambling, but I probably wouldn’t crusade against it, though I do reserve the right to change my mind about either of these. My point here is simply that whatever the merits of casinos – and as you know, I am skeptical that they will do much to benefit Texas’ bottom line – they will not be a part of the solution for the 2011-12 biennium. If the Lege manages to pass the joint resolutions to put an amendment on the November, 2011 ballot, and if that manages to get ratified by the voters, then casinos – if that’s what gets authorized – still have to be built. Slot machines at racetracks can happen more quickly, but it still won’t be instantaneous. I could imagine there being some revenue from expanded gambling for the 2013-14 budget, but that won’t help any next year. Again, gambling is not a fix for the next budget. Beyond that, maybe, but we still have to make it through the next two years.

One more thing:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican facing a primary challenge, said he was not too worried about whether the candidates have budget ideas. Although he said governors have significant powers, including the line-item veto, and their suggestions are welcome, he noted that lawmakers craft the budget.

“At the end of the day, governors don’t write the budget,” Ogden said. “If they can’t think of anything, it’s not essential.”

I note that mostly as a reason to link to this Trib story about Ogden’s primary race, in which he faces a challenge from the right from someone who doesn’t really have a firm grasp on what’s in the budget. This pretty much said it all to me:

In an apparent attempt to solidify his more-conservative-than-Ogden bona fides, Bius has made the elimination of “generational welfare” a centerpiece of his campaign. “If we begin requiring drug testing for those trying to get cash payments for welfare and require them to be citizens of the United States and Texas, it’ll go along way toward solving our social problems,” Bius says. “My momma told me, you get what you pay for. If you want drug addicts, give them money. If you want illegal immigrants, give them money.”

Ogden brushes off the idea as cynical stereotyping of the poor — and wholly unnecessary in a conservative state that already has among the nation’s stingiest public doles. “It bothers me, because it’s kind of a code word,” he says. “I’m not sure exactly what he means by it, but Texas is the least-generous state when it comes to welfare. The majority of people on it are children. Another large category is people in nursing homes. Neither of these groups fit into the category of ‘generational welfare.’ … We have not incentivized anti-social behavior, but when you’re dealing with unemployed mothers with children, you have to do something. You can’t just say, ‘It’s not our problem – good luck.’”

Yes, it is a code word, and not a particularly subtle one. It’s weird being put in the position of defending Steve Ogden, who’s far too conservative to be the guy I want writing the budget, but that’s the state of the GOP these days. The alternative to Steve Ogden is someone who lives in a fantasy world. The sad thing is that Ogden’s experience and understanding of reality won’t be an asset for him in his race.

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  1. […] help to remind people that even if expanded gambling were a sure thing for adoption next year, it still wouldn’t affect the current budget situation. Focus on that, and on fixing those real problems we face in education, employment, and […]

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