This commentary, written by Dr. Vance Ginn and Kiara Pillay, originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on May 2, 2016.
Texas’ 2017 legislative session is quickly approaching. The bedrock of the Texas miracle has been a diversified economy and a good tax climate. Lower oil prices and slower economic growth and job creation threaten the state’s prosperity.
With less revenue likely available next session, it’s essential to keep this solid economic foundation by scrutinizing every taxpayer dollar spent, so excesses and higher taxes are not on the table. The Texas Public Policy Foundation does this with its Spotlight series that highlights trends in all 10 articles of the 2016-17 state budget.
The findings are alarming when comparing budget increases with compounded population growth plus inflation. This key measure is included in the recommended spending-limit reform that covers the budget and uses actual past data. Thirteen member organizations of the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition support using this key measure as the budget’s maximum growth rate.
Since the 2004-05 budget, the overall budget has increased 69 percent, compared with an estimated 55 percent increase in the key measure. If our reforms were followed since the 2004-05 budget, taxpayers would be supporting a budget that’s $17 billion less than the 2016-17 budget of $209.1 billion.
This means Texans are paying higher taxes today than if the budget had increased at only the rate of essential demands of government. Therefore, it’s important for legislators and taxpayers to probe every budget area for excesses.
Fortunately, the Legislature passed a budget last session that increased 2.9 percent, which was less than our target based on this key measure of 6.5 percent. However, several functions have increased by more than this measure — and multiple articles increased by more than it has increased since the 2004-05 budget:
Bottom line: Each article must be watched closely to ensure that the 2018-19 budget doesn’t exceed population growth plus inflation. This will assure Texans that lawmakers are being good stewards of their tax dollars and are keeping a solid economic foundation for them to prosper.
Ph.D. Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Blog posts are publications by the author.