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When is a surplus not a surplus?

When any extra money you might have is already accounted for, due to unaddressed needs, accounting shenanigans, and shortsighted cuts.

Some lawmakers and budget experts expect to have as much as $8 billion to $9 billion more in general revenue in this fiscal period, which ends Aug. 31. Some are guessing lower. Combs will give her new revenue estimate on the eve of the legislative session.

The unanticipated tax revenue is on top of some $8.1 billion projected to be in the rainy day fund at the end of this fiscal cycle, plus any revenue growth in the next two-year cycle.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said that due to disappointing news from the comptroller in past sessions, “I’m not counting on anything until we get the official update.”

Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said, “The state is heading towards a near-record surplus, but there are claims against that.”

Claims include an estimated $4.7 billion in Medicaid expenses due this year that aren’t accounted for in the budget. In addition, some leaders want to quickly undo an accounting maneuver used to balance the current budget, in which they delayed a $2 billion payment to schools.

Looking ahead, it’s estimated Medicaid will take $7.8 billion more in 2014-15 than was allocated last year.

At the same time, the push to restore education cuts is fierce in light of the improving economic picture. Public education got $5.4 billion less in state money than it would have received under previous funding formulas.

“We’re going to need to fund enrollment growth” in public schools in the next two-year period, at about $2 billion, Straus said. But any additional investment may be complicated by a lawsuit over school funding, since lawmakers who have faced repeated litigation like to wait for cases to work their way up to a Texas Supreme Court ruling, so they can see what they are required to do.

That’s all on top of the need to do something about the state’s long-term water usage, and the fact that we currently have no way to pay for any new transportation projects, not to mention the fact that our tax system is antiquated and inadequate and in need of serious overhaul lest we run into these same problems every two years forever. Even if we figure all this out, we’re still going to wind up spending less than we would have to in order to provide the same level of services before the 2011 budget cuts. So yeah, let’s not talk about having a “surplus”. If we’re very lucky, we’ll have enough to do a not-completely-inadequate job of meeting the most pressing needs, while hoping like hell that the economy continues to improve and that the idiotic politics of Rick Perry don’t sabotage everything.

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  1. […] Kuff reinforces in this post, When is a surplus not a surplus? Speaking of the likely already spent surplus he adds: That’s all on top of the need to do […]

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