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Comptroller finds a few more bucks

Better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Comptroller Susan Combs has revised the state’s 2011 revenue estimate by $300 million because of stronger-than-expected sales tax collections.

That change would reduce the deficit in the current budget to $4 billion and make an additional $300 million available for appropriation in the next two-year budget, which begins Sept. 1.

[…]

If sales tax revenue continues at this pace, the state could bring in $620 million more than Combs estimated, according to Eva DeLuna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

It’s not much, but it does help. Every extra dollar Combs estimates is a dollar that won’t get cut. Of course, these newer estimates are based on the improvement in the economy, and the biggest threat to that is the huge number of job cuts that would be forced by the Republican budget policies in Texas and in Congress. So I trust you’ll understand if I keep my celebration of this news modest.

You can see Combs’ letter about the revenue estimate revision at the Trib, which notes that it’s early in the session for such a revision; that may well portend a further change. In the meantime, however, it’s unclear whether this will affect the nascent consensus to use some of the Rainy Day Fund. The votes to make that happen aren’t quite there yet.

Meanwhile, Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, shed possible light on why House Appropriations abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting Monday morning, at which is was planning to approve a bill tapping $4.3 billion of rainy-day dollars to cover a deficit in the current cycle.

“The House is struggling mightily with that 60 percent — three-fifths — vote,” Ogden said, referring to the supermajority required to spend money from the rainy day fund in the current cycle.

On Monday, Senate Finance discussed an Ogden bill that would spend about $3 billion of rainy-day money on both the current deficit and the next two-year budget. Doing so requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers — which is the Senate’s normal threshold for bringing any bill to a floor vote.

But after a spirited argument of the state’s current predicament and the 2006 tax swap-school finance bill, Ogden delayed a vote on his bill, saying he could tell his colleagues weren’t ready.

Rep. Jim Pitts postponed a hearing in the House on the Rainy Day Fund after getting stood up by Perry’s office. While the consensus seems to be that the Senate will have the votes to be able to act on using the Rainy Day Fund, it’s a close shave in the House. As such, Peggy Fikac suggests that Democrats are trying to get a little leverage out of this.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, a San Antonio Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said enough Republicans oppose the idea that Democratic support will be needed to reach 90 House votes.

“We’re going to make sure that our priorities are met,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that we’re not taken for granted, but that we leverage to the extent possible a proper hearing of our priorities for the next two years.” Those priorities include health care for vulnerable Texans and education, he said.

One presumes that Democratic support for using the Rainy Day Fund was never in doubt. Given that, only 41 Republicans are needed to meet the 3/5 threshhold for spending RDF money on the 2010-11 biennium. I think that much is doable, based on the scattered reports of this Republican and that supporting RDF usage, but beyond that I’m not terribly optimistic.

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