The Senate is looking for funds wherever it can find them.
Hoping to cushion the impact of proposed state budget cuts to public education and health care, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that a special subcommittee will be named Monday to find $5 billion in nontax revenue for use in the next two-year budget cycle.
State Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, will head the effort to identify alternative methods of balancing the budget through the sale of state property and financial management tools, like making greater use of some state investments.
“Texans have a lower threshold for taxes as a percent of income than residents of other states,” Dewhurst said in an interview. At the same time, he noted that lawmakers are struggling to adequately provide essential services to Texas’ growing population and that additional revenues may be necessary.
Dewhurst said he believes the Legislature might be able to squeeze more money out of real estate investments and the Permanent School Fund, comprising mineral royalties from state-owned lands. Sale of unused state lands might also help bridge the budget gap, he said.
Duncan said the seven-member committee would examine “all state revenue streams in a robust and open way. It is going to be comprehensive.”
“We will look at everything — inside the treasury and outside,” he said. “A fiscal crisis like we are having is not fun but it allows us to evaluate everything. Are there funds that are just sitting there and are not efficient?”
Duncan declined to say specifically whether university investments or school district reserves would be under review, saying only “everything is on the table.”
“I don’t see any low-hanging fruit. It is a tough job,” he said.
I’m delighted to see them make this effort, and to see them set a target for revenue (unlike the House, which will be happy with whatever it comes up with) even if the level is too low. Recognizing that what we have is completely inadequate for what we need to do is encouraging, even if it will fall short. What’s not encouraging is the continued avoidance of acknowledging the underlying problem.
“I’m glad the lieutenant governor is doing this. Desperation requires you to get creative,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. But she added that the Legislature was dodging the real source of the state’s fiscal problem — a 2006 tax-swap scheme that led to declining revenues. “The cure is you’ve got to fix the margins tax (imposed on businesses to lower property taxes in 2006.)”
I suppose the optimistic reading of this is that they have to exhaust every other possibility first before they are willing and able to face the facts. Some of them may reach that realization before others.
How hard will it be to keep Senate Republicans, much less Senate Democrats , in line behind a two-year budget that cuts far, far more deeply than the one passed in 2003? For the past 48 hours, lobbyists and social services advocates have been pointing to remarks Tuesday morning by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, as proof it’ll be cussedly difficult.
“We’re playing a game here with people, and I’m not going to be a part of it,” Eltife said at a meeting of the subpanel of Senate Finance Committee that’s chopping Medicaid and social programs.
“I just can’t,” he said, spurning appeals by Subcommittee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, for senators to “start making decisions” on whether to stand by cuts in GOP leaders’ initial budgets.
After describing the process as a game, he added, “I can’t sit here and decide that I’m going to pend the blind children’s program. I think they’re all priorities.”
Yes they are, and the more people that come to realize it, the better. But as long as we’re in Rick Perry’s world, I don’t know how much it will matter. All I can say is that I have to hope for better. EoW has more.