By Vance Ginn, Ph.D. and Quinn Townsend
Families in Alaska, whether in good or bad economic times, practice responsible, priority-based budgeting. They must make decisions, often difficult ones, on how best to spend their hard-earned dollars. The same is true for small business owners who must prioritize their spending to keep their doors open, meet payroll, and provide for themselves.
Alaska’s government should do the same, and even more so given it’s not their money.
The way to do this is for the state to practice priority-based budgeting, whereby legislators take a close look at how every taxpayer dollar is spent. By doing so, state officials can allocate funding so that it doesn’t exceed the state’s ability to pay for it, as appropriately measured by population growth plus inflation.
Considering Alaska budget trends over the last two decades, there has been an improvement since 2016. During the period from 2001 to 2015, the average annual budget increased by 9.9%, which was three times faster than population growth plus inflation. Since then, the budget has declined annually by 7.3%, on average, while this key measure increased by just 1.6%, meaning that the recent growth of state government has helped to correct for prior excesses.
From 2001 to 2021, the budget grew on an average annual basis by 4.7%, which was nearly double that of population growth plus inflation. The excesses in the earlier period compounded over time to result in an inflation-adjusted state budget per capita in FY21 that is 10.9%, or $601 million, more than this key metric.
Some in Alaska have argued that there is no more fat to trim from the budget, that the state has cut everything it can since the highest spending years. But because the enacted budget, year after year, allocates more state funds than the state is able to sustain, it’s clear that difficult decisions are necessary. Just like a family or business prioritizes their budget based on necessities before wants, Alaska must be responsible and do the same.
This is why a fiscal rule of a responsible spending limit on state funds in Alaska is essential. This can be achieved by capping state appropriations to growing no more than population growth plus inflation every year.
As noted above, if the budget had matched population growth plus inflation over the last two decades, the state could have saved about $800 per Alaskan this year. This means the state would be budgeting about $600 million less in FY21 thereby helping to avoid its current attempt to dig itself out of a fiscal crisis and would probably not have drained its savings accounts either.
But we can’t change the past, only learn from our mistakes and do better. Much better. This will take responsibility and discipline, two things common to Alaskans.
Alaska Policy Forum’s Responsible Alaska Budget sets the maximum threshold on state appropriations based on population growth plus inflation over the last year, similar to what a meaningful spending cap should do.
Specifically, our maximum threshold on FY22 state appropriations is $6.18 billion after an increase of 0.92%. Achieving this feat and working to increase the budget less than this amount will help immensely in reducing the cost of funding government.
History has demonstrated that governments cannot spend and tax their way to prosperity. Alaska’s spending over the past two decades has proven that.
Policymakers should consider Alaska Policy Forum’s Responsible Alaska Budget and work to further limit spending. Keeping spending levels lower will not only serve Alaskans’ interests, but it will also make Alaska more economically competitive so that residents have more opportunities to achieve their hopes and dreams.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation based in Austin, Texas. He is the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Trump administration.
Quinn Townsend is the Policy Manager at Alaska Policy Forum based in Anchorage, Alaska. Previously, Quinn worked as the Economic Research Analyst at The Buckeye Institute. She completed her M.S. in Resource Economics and Management at West Virginia University.
A recent Wall Street Journal article claimed “U.S. Debt Is at a Record High, but the Risk Calculus Is Changing.” But is that calculus really changing? According to some, the government can borrow and print all the money it wants without repercussions.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) advances the puerile notion that we have somehow moved beyond the antiquated restriction of scarcity under which our ancestors labored. This thinking is reminiscent of the childish fantasy that our actions will not have consequences, but realities like scarcity are inescapable.
What adherents of MMT have really done is determined their socialist agenda and then reconstructed the policy tools available to support the agenda. It’s a sneaky move but one not based on reality nor economics.
But our point is not to counter every flaw of MMT, but rather to note that similar bad economics is snake oil sold to us by those who supposedly have “better” economic theories.
The notion being peddled today is that D.C. can spend trillions of taxpayer dollars, run up massive deficits, fund most of it by the Federal Reserve through money creation, and voilà, no inflation—reminiscent of a bad magic trick. A growing body of political activists in economists’ clothing subscribe to this view. Inflation has become a dirty word, unbefitting modern discourse among intellectuals.
But ask yourself: Am I paying more for food and gasoline? Are home and rent prices going up, and property taxes with them? Are cars more expensive? Is lumber more expensive?
It seems everything is getting more expensive, and that is price inflation—a rise in the general price level of a basket of goods and services. But what exactly causes it?
You’ll hear all kinds of explanations. Some have blamed greedy businesses for raising their prices. Some have blamed grasping unions for demanding higher wages. Some have blamed the consumer-at-large for being a spendthrift.
Yes, businessmen are greedy—everyone is. Yes, unions are grasping—everyone is. Yes, the consumer is a spendthrift—everyone is. But they don’t cause inflation.
Inflation originates in one place: behind the façade of a Greek temple on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.—at the Federal Reserve.
The Fed can create money out of nothing—or more technically, create money out of government debt. Only the Fed can churn out unlimited money, and that is why only it can cause inflation. Businessmen, consumers, unions, and investors do not have this magical printing press and so they cannot cause inflation.
But why does creating money cause inflation? Wouldn’t we be better off if we all had more money?
Imagine that Santa Claus writes you a check for Christmas equal to the amount of money you already have. You now have twice as much money! But imagine Santa does the same thing for everyone else. Shortly thereafter, the price of nearly everything you purchase would be about twice as expensive because there’s too much money chasing too few goods.
That is inflation—and the Fed has been playing Santa Claus.
As the big spenders in D.C. take the country further into debt, the Fed has been there to write trillion dollar checks to pay for it. Normally, the government would have to borrow money from the public—which doesn’t cause inflation but does crowd out private sector activity. But for more than a year now, the Fed has kept its printing press in overdrive, thereby artificially holding down interest rates and distorting economic activity.
Initially, this appears to create an economic boom, as everyone thinks he’s better off with his government “stimulus” check and increased spending. But remember that nothing is free in a world of scarcity. Everyone discovers that others also have more money, and that prices are rising as more dollars chase fewer goods and services.
This inflation also acts as a tax on us as it reduces our purchasing power. Put simply, government uses inflation to confiscate a portion of your savings and your wealth.
If inflation averages just 2% per year (the Federal Reserve’s target), the government will have confiscated about half the value of your liquid wealth in just 36 years. For context, one measure of general price inflation was 2.6% for the 12 months through March 2021, but 4.1% in the first quarter of 2021 based on another measure. At a 4% average annual rate, the hidden tax of inflation will seize half of your money’s purchasing power in a mere 18 years.
Perhaps the Federal Reserve is not playing Santa Claus, but the Grinch. Instead of the massive spending boondoggles by the Biden administration and resulting costly repercussions, we need rules that limit excessive government spending and excessive money creation.
Texas will likely receive roughly $40 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for a number of budget areas: roughly $12 billion to public schools, $10 billion to local governments, and $4 billion to infrastructure projects (i.e., water, sewage, and broadband). Texas looks to also receive $17 billion in more flexible funding to state government.
Approach Depends on Restrictions
There are restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds, but we will not know details on these restrictions until the U.S. Treasury issues guidance. Generally, these restrictions include using the funds for direct or indirect cuts to state taxes or deposits into pension funds. Given these restrictions, if the state is going to accept these funds, the best approach would be to follow a pro-growth, long-term strategy to provide relief to Texans from the struggles imposed by COVID-19 and shutdowns.
The chosen strategy should keep taxes lower than otherwise, reduce government debt obligations, fund only one-time expenditures, and reject all or most funds with strings attached to avoid expanding government and to reduce the impact on the country’s high spending and debt burdening America. Doing so will help provide relief from the effects of the pandemic and associated shutdowns. Using this strategy would help Texas recover faster and better withstand the onerous policies by the Biden administration to Keep Texas Texan by considering the following options for the $17 billion in more flexible funding.
If Texas accepts some or all the funds, the following uses should be considered:
Support Key Priorities
In response to the Texas Comptroller’s announcement that state revenue would be more than $3 billion higher than expected for the 2022-2023 biennium, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Vance Ginn released the following statement:
“The Texas Comptroller’s improved estimate of tax collections from primarily an improving COVID-19 situation and opened economy shows that the Legislature has $3.1 billion more available for the Texas budget. Both the House and Senate have already voted in favor of budgets that cover the state’s priorities and stay within the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. Therefore, the responsible approach to addressing the additional tax collections should be to give taxpayers relief—especially more toward property tax relief—to help Texas families and businesses.”
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar forecast $115.65 billion available for general-purpose spending in 2022-23, which is up $3.12 billion from January.
72% of Texans say property taxes are a major burden
TPPF Conservative Texas Budget: $246.8 Billion
Texas Senate Committee Substitute Budget: $244.7 Billion
Texas House Committee Substitute Budget: $240.9 Billion
This table provides an apples-to-apples comparison of amounts appropriated for the 2020-21 budget from the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-Up and each chamber’s 2022-23 appropriated amounts. We compare each chamber’s appropriated amounts with the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) limits for state funds and all funds (state and federal) based on a maximum increase of 5% in population growth plus inflation over the last two fiscal years.
We exclude from the 2020-21 budget the designated $8.3 billion in Hurricane Harvey recovery one-time expenses and $5 billion in general revenue for school district M&O property tax relief in HB 3 from the 2019 session. Likewise, we exclude from each chamber’s version of the 2022-23 budget the $6 billion in general revenue to maintain last session’s property tax relief—which without this allocation would result in school district M&O property taxes rising 7 cents and likely in increased spending—and will exclude one-time COVID-related funding. The exclusion of one-time expenses for a declared disaster recovery is important for budget transparency and for not inappropriately inflating the base by that amount allowing for excessive spending later.
Fortunately, the passed versions of the budget by the Senate and the House fall well below the CTB limits in state funds and all funds, and neither appropriates money from the rainy day fund. This must be maintained—with hopefully more tax relief—by the conference committee and Governor Abbott to account for the average Texas taxpayer’s ability to pay for government spending while leaving more money in the productive private sector to let people prosper.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Chief Economist Vance Ginn and economist E.J. Antoni break down the massive spending proposals in President Biden’s recent address to Congress.
$225 billion toward high-quality childcare and ensuring families pay only a portion of their income toward child-care services, based on a sliding scale
Raising taxes from one pocket to put money in the other is just shuffling dollars. The subsidies will also increase the overall cost of child care for those who need it.
$225 billion to create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program
Americans should be free to negotiate compensation packages like paid leave as they see fit; it shouldn’t be dictated by a bureaucrat. The consequence of a government-mandated paid family and medical leave will be lower wages and less opportunities for those with less skill and experience.
$200 billion for free universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, offered through a national partnership with states
Parents want valuable schooling options for their kids, especially during critical years of early development, not rhetorical fallacies that something is free. Instead of creating another spendthrift program with a profligate bureaucracy behind it that will reduce the quality of preschool like government has to K-12 education, government should focus on removing imposed barriers of high taxes and marriage penalties that reduce parents’ resources to meet their child’s unique needs.
$109 billion toward ensuring two years of free community college for all students
College, including community college, is not always the right fit. Some people enter trade or technical schools or begin their careers right after high school. This is especially true among those with lower lifetime earnings. “Free” college programs just take tax money from those with lower earnings to pay for the tuition of those who will likely have higher potential lifetime earnings. Government-guaranteed funding for higher education will also further inflate costs and reduce quality as things are rationed without market prices.
About $85 billion toward Pell Grants, and increasing the maximum award by about $1,400 for low-income students
Pell Grants, like many subsidies for higher education, benefit school administrators more than students. As subsidies increase, so does tuition, and so do administrative costs. Students eligible for Pell Grants often take out student loans to cover the remainder of their education expenses and they graduate with heavy debt burdens. To help make higher education more affordable, government should remove demand subsidies and supply restrictions, forcing schools to compete for students by slimming down their bloated administrative departments and by increasing access to lower tuition.
A $62 billion grant program to increase college retention and completion rates
There is no evidence that a lack of funding is causing retention problems at colleges and universities. There is, however, substantial evidence that low-quality government-run primary and secondary schools have failed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed at the college level. The solution is not more government spending, but more educational choice throughout the education system.
A $39 billion program that gives two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year historically Black college or university, tribal college or university, or minority-serving institution
Subsidies in higher education is what’s leading to the rapid increases in tuition, so doubling down on that is poor policy rather than finding ways to increase competition and lower prices while improving quality.
$45 billion toward meeting child nutritional needs, including by expanding access to the summer EBT program, which helps some low-income families with children buy food outside the school year
This is another government program that is fraught with waste and inefficiency. We would do better to lift burdensome regulations and taxes off the backs of small business, stimulating development, investment, and job growth. A parent with a well-paying job can afford to feed his or her own children.
$200 billion to make permanent the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan’s provision lowering health insurance premiums for those who buy coverage on their own
This sounds like a subsidy for those buying health insurance, but it is actually a subsidy for the insurance companies. After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which would supposedly reign in profits of the insurance companies, those profits reached record highs. People want more choices for healthcare, not handouts to insurance companies.
Extending through 2025, and making permanently fully refundable, the child tax credit expansion that was included in the COVID-19 relief bill
As Ronald Reagan said, nothing is so close to eternity as a temporary government program. The justification for transitory COVID-19 relief was the pandemic, which is now far past its peak as we approach herd immunity. There is no reason to continue these temporary relief measures going forward.
Making permanent the recent expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit
These tax credits are accomplishing the opposite of the bipartisan welfare reforms of the 1990s. Instead of rewarding work, they reward idleness. These government handouts will serve to trap people in a cycle of poverty and dependency.
Making permanent the earned income tax credit for childless workers
This is another example of a government program taking on a life of its own. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) tripled the credit and gave benefits to childless workers that were previously reserved to working parents. The justification for this ill-conceived measure was the temporary hardship from government-imposed lockdowns; there is no reason to make them permanent but rather open their economies so people can find jobs and prosper. The effect of these government handouts is to keep people in low-wage jobs because the tax credit is quickly phased out as income rises. Once again, these programs cause dependency on government instead of letting people prosper.
It’s easy to tell who the Texans are in a crowd; you simply shout, “the stars at night, are big and bright”—then wait for about the span of four quick claps.
It’s easy to tell if a budget in Texas is truly conservative—and worthy of the great Lone Star State’s commitment to freedom and prosperity. If the biennial budget grows less than population plus inflation—our formula for a Conservative Texas Budget (CTB)—then it’s a budget that doesn’t grow beyond the average Texan’s ability to pay.
We love budget and tax cuts, of course; the Texas Legislature should take every opportunity to ease the burden on taxpayers, leaving more of their money in their own pockets. Yet the CTB is a useful guideline for lawmakers.
The good news is that both the House and Senate versions of the 2022-23 budget come in well under the CTB level.
This is a big win for Texans (see this thread), and it includes rightfully rejecting funding for Medicaid expansion in the budget, which effectively kills this attempt by the left. There are better, more affordable ways to help those in need rather than just providing government-run coverage that does not result in quality, timely care, as market-based reforms that put patients in charge would do.
There are other conservative policy victories in the budget, as well. It defunds some corporate welfare, it requires proposals of some state agency cuts each session, and it improves the process in determining the use of COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.
Note that we appropriately don’t count these federal funds in our budget calculations because they haven’t been accepted yet (and much if not all with strings attached should be rejected) and should be used for only one-time expenditures to keep from unnecessarily growing government and then falling into the trap like the state did when the federal funds from President Obama dried up.
Now, some are saying that the budget doesn’t provide additional property tax relief for Texas families. That’s true. But it does preserve property tax relief from the last biennium. This is relief just like it was last session, when $5 billion was allocated toward lowering school district M&O property taxes—which meant taxpayers paid less than otherwise.
The $6 billion in this budget is to fund that same 7-cent property tax rate compression because of rising appraisals across the state. If that $6 billion wasn’t in the budget, then property owners would face a 7-cent tax increase and those funds would go to other programs that grow government.
So, the $6 billion is property tax relief by keeping property taxes and the size of government lower than otherwise—that’s certainly better than the alternative.
The next step in the budget process is for the conference committee on the budget to iron out the differences of a gap of $4 billion more in the Senate budget than the House budget, which the amount of expected federal funds is the main difference. This should include continued spending restraint for actual tax cuts and additional tax relief before the end of session.
There are a few key amendments to the budget by the House that lawmakers should keep, including:
Asking state agencies to provide proposed cuts of 1%, 5%, and 10% each session;
Defunding more corporate welfare; and
Improving federal COVID-19 funds determination.
Overall, this approach to the budget is a key part of TPPF’s Responsible Recovery Agenda that will support more growth, job creation, and economic opportunity in Texas.
It’s never hard to tell who the Texans are in a crowd, and in a crowded legislative session, it’s not hard to tell which budgetary decisions are the right ones. They’re the ones that lead to more freedom and more prosperity for Texans like the Legislature looks poised to do.
Let’s start with a simple fact: It’s not economic “stimulus” when someone comes along, takes money from your right pocket and puts some of it back in your left pocket (keeping much of it for “other uses”). That’s sleight-of-hand, not stimulus, which is a reason the government can’t stimulate anything other than more government.
That’s more and more true when less and less of the funds go back in your pocket. And make no mistake, President Joe Biden’s plans for a third “stimulus” bill—eclipsing the previous two—isn’t about helping struggling Americans hit hard by the pandemic and the shutdowns. Instead, it’s a massive, pork-laden bill that seeks to keep many of his lavish campaign promises and shore up support among key constituencies.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the area of climate activism.
According to CNBC, “The recovery plan, to be unveiled this week, will likely involve installing thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and building millions of new energy-efficient homes.” (Note to President Biden: Out-of-work Americans can’t afford new electric vehicles.)
Biden’s plan to “Build Back Better” also “supports his broader goal to achieve carbon-free power generation by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050”—an impossible goal that, even if it was achievable, would have little effect on global temperatures.
But that’s not all.
The Washington Post reports that it would spend “hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and rails. It also includes funding for retrofitting buildings, safety improvements, schools infrastructure, and low-income and tribal groups, as well as $100 billion for schools and education infrastructure.”
And he plans a slew of massive tax hikes to help pay for it.
He could raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, which would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and raise taxes on American individuals. These actions and others would undo key parts of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act of 2017 that combined with deregulation helped launch tangible economic prosperity until the global pandemic.
Each of these initiatives—climate activism, massive “infrastructure” spending and tax hikes—is bad economic policy in and of itself. Together, they’re a trifecta of terrible, guaranteed to overburden our economy and saddle us and future generations with more government, more debt and less opportunity.
History demonstrates that despite the promises of a Green New Deal, new green jobs prove elusive—and the ones that are created are very, very expensive, which requires more government spending of our hard-earned tax dollars that reduces growth and jobs in the process.
Here’s what President Obama said in his 2008 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power, and solar power, and the next generation of biofuels—an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”
That never happened.
Obama himself later acknowledged that “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” That went for both the climate jobs (his policies sent solar panel manufacturing to China, for example, and other companies simply misled the government, took the money and declared bankruptcy) and for infrastructure jobs.
The good news is that we know what works. We can truly support more self-sufficiency, dignity, and human flourishing by fully opening the economy up.
Americans aren’t clamoring for a Green New Deal (when they’re told what it will cost), but they sure would like to dine out, see family members again and open up their businesses without the heavy-handed pandemic measures imposed by governments at every level.
It begins with Congress rejecting the third “stimulus” boondoggle. States should also reject some if not all of the latest round of bailout money to keep from unnecessarily expanding government programs and losing some independence to the federal government. And Congress should instead adopt the Texas Model of less spending, lower taxes and more reasonable regulation.
A great next step would be for the Biden administration to lift its “halt” on new oil and gas permits on federal lands and in federal waters.
That action alone would achieve all three of Biden’s stated goals for his “stimulus”: It would reduce emissions by allowing access to cleaner-burning natural gas, it would support many new and existing high-paying jobs for Americans (instead of outsourcing them to other countries, which we’ll be forced to buy our petroleum from), and it would support infrastructure improvement through the taxes producers pay for their use of our roads and bridges.
Another step would be to rein in excessive government spending that is bankrupting our country.
Ultimately, we can regain the prosperity we had before the pandemic—but not with Biden’s progressive plan.
Toyota Financial Services recently announced that as a result of consolidating customer service centers, the Cedar Rapids facility will close and cut 600 jobs, due in part to the private sector employing 5% fewer people than a year ago. The consolidation of customer service centers is a loss for Iowa and a win for other states, such as Texas. Businesses are responding to both economic climates and the new work environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
States with high tax rates are seeing an exodus of both people and businesses while those with lower rates are seeing them arrive in droves. This is yet another example of how people vote with their feet when the burden of government becomes excessive.
Iowa has made progress in recent years by lowering the individual and corporate income tax rates, but policymakers should beware of becoming too complacent, and they should work to continue reining in spending and lowering rates to attract people and businesses.
Many states have or are gradually lowering their personal and corporate income tax rates. This happened at the federal level during the Trump administration and many people had tangible prosperity that they’d never experienced. But the Biden administration may soon reverse those gains if progressives in D.C. have their way, which makes more competitive tax systems in Iowa and other states essential.
Legislatures in Arizona, Mississippi, and West Virginia are currently considering bills to phase-out their state income tax. For Iowa to remain economically competitive, it must follow suit. Iowa’s tax rates matter because we are in direct competition with 49 other states for businesses, jobs, and people. For example, South Dakota, Iowa’s neighbor, does not tax individual or corporate income, making it far more economically competitive.
Texas, another no-personal-income tax state, is a national leader in terms of economic growth and attracting both people and businesses. Iowa could also learn from Texas’s recent property tax reform in 2019, which limited growth in property taxes without voter approval to 3.5 percent for local governments and to 2.5 percent for school districts. They are even considering improving their tax system by eliminating nearly half of their property taxes.
Higher tax rates not only deter economic growth, but they also penalize hard-working individuals, families, and businesses. Taxes on income are considered the most harmful of taxes as they discourage productivity, hiring, and investing in Iowa.
In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature passed pro-growth tax reform that lowered income tax rates and broadened the sales tax base. Reducing tax rates and practicing responsible spending policies is making Iowa more competitive and economically strong.
As a result of the 2018 law, this year Iowa’s corporate tax rate fell from 12 percent, the highest in the nation, to 9.8 percent—matching Minnesota’s. Even at 9.8 percent Iowa still has the third high corporate tax rate in the nation.
In 2023, the income tax is scheduled to be reduced to 6.5 percent—making it more competitive in the region. The caveat is, for the rate reduction to occur, it must meet two stringent revenue triggers.
First, state revenues must surpass $8.3 billion. Second, revenue growth must be at least 4% during that fiscal year. The use of revenue triggers in state tax policy can be a good idea but creating a high threshold can unnecessarily delay tax rate reductions and reduce the necessary restraint on government spending—the driver of higher tax burdens.
Lowering income taxes should not be hindered by the 4% growth trigger, so repealing it to use any revenue above $8.3 billion for cutting the income tax would reduce a major roadblock to tax relief and provide taxpayers with more certainty they can use to plan for their more prosperous futures.
Gov. Reynolds continues to stress the importance of making Iowa’s tax code more competitive. The Iowa Senate has passed legislation that will repeal both revenue triggers and phase-out the obsolete inheritance tax. Both measures would place taxpayers first and make the state’s tax code more competitive.
Iowa can look to states such as Texas, Indiana, North Carolina, among others that are creating pro-growth tax codes and practicing fiscal restraint. To be an economic leader in the Midwest—and to let people prosper—Iowa cannot afford to become complacent.
“Hey Florida! Help is Here.”
That’s how Vice President Kamala Harris recently put a 21st Century spin on Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
What does this have to do with the Texas budget and House Bill 3548? Let me explain.
The premise of the Vice President’s tweet is that government’s job is to swoop in and solve all of our problems. The premise of Reagan’s quote is that too often, government is the problem—or at least standing in the way of solutions. Reagan was right, of course; government fulfills some necessary functions, but in most cases, more government means less freedom.
That’s why we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have labored for years to chisel the idea of a Conservative Texas Budget into the hard granite at the Texas state capitol. Our reasoning is clear — people don’t need more government; they need more opportunity. And our simple formula reflects that: The state’s total budget, which is the footprint of government funded by taxpayers, ought not to grow faster than our population growth plus price inflation. This spending limit is reflected in Rep. Matt Krause’s committee substitute for HB 594, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Growth beyond that equation is an excessive growth of government—meaning bigger state agencies, which inevitably assume more and more regulatory powers to themselves. And a bigger budget also means more taxes, since states (unlike the federal government) can’t hide behind deficit spending. Government shouldn’t grow faster than the citizens’ ability to pay for it.
Now, state Rep. Greg Bonnen, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has had his HB 3548 referred to that committee. And Sen. Kelly Hancock, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has the companion SB 1336 that will be heard before the Senate Finance Committee (of which he is a member). This legislation would improve the state’s current weak spending limit by expanding the base to all general revenue funds and by changing the growth limit to one closely related to ours of population growth times inflation.
It’s important to note that the Conservative Texas Budget is a ceiling, not a floor. It’s a limit on how much the budget can increase, not a target. There’s no limit on shrinking government, cutting taxes and reducing regulations. That course would be best for Texans, and TPPF has outlined many ways in which lawmakers should do so. Our top 10 legislative priorities for this Session, which we call our Liberty Action Agenda, provides a clear path for legislators to shift power and prosperity back to the people of Texas.
While Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation would set an improved formula closer to ours into stone and ensure that future Legislatures comply, we are pleased to see that both the House’s and the Senate’s introduced (proposed) budgets fit within our guidelines. Our math says that a total of $246.8 billion in all funds for 2022-2023 would represent a 5% increase over the last biennium, matching the growth in population plus inflation. Both proposed budgets came in under that number after excluding $6 billion toward maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Historically, lawmakers have been too ready to increase the Texas budget and grow government. But in 2015, we introduced the Conservative Texas Budget, giving legislators a clear bar. Prior to this, the average growth rate of the biennial budget from 2004 to 2015 was 12%. With the Conservative Texas Budget in place, the average growth rate was just 5.5%. More importantly, before 2015, the average growth rate of appropriations exceeded that of population plus inflation by almost 5 percentage points, while since then, growth has been limited to an average of almost a full percentage point below population and inflation.
The Conservative Texas Budget provides a path toward responsible state spending. It has proven to be successful at restraining excessive growth in government in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future if followed each session.
That’s why Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation, which codifies much of the Conservative Texas budget, is so important. It’s the help Texas families truly need.
“Stimulus” checks are in the mail to many (but not all) Americans, and the news is awash in stories about the best ways to spend that $1,400, and even speculation about whether we’ll see a “stimmy rally” on Wall Street.
But Texans are smart enough to know that no check from the government comes without strings attached.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion monstrosity is filled with a progressive “wish list;” only about 9% of the funds have to do with the pandemic.
Additionally, it will add substantially to the national debt, saddling us and our kids and grandkids with the tab while moving toward another redistribution recession as these funds reduce incentives to work, open states, and move off of government dependence.
And to make things worse, President Biden is already planning huge tax hikes to pay for more that would ultimately be paid by workers.
It’s no different for the states, which will also be receiving ARPA funds soon. There’s no such thing as free “stimulus” money; there are always strings attached. That’s why Texas’s leaders must be very careful with the roughly $43 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) they’re slated to receive. We must use the money wisely, and possibly, not to use it at all.
Some of the money is already earmarked. As for the more flexible funding the state will receive, Texas can expect about $17 billion to state government and $10 billion to local governments.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, along with its counterparts in 20 other states, are already questioning the biggest string attached to the funding—Congress’ stipulation that it not be used “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue.”
They rightly argue in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that this provision oversteps the federal government’s authority and could be used to prevent any state from cutting any tax. We need answers from her as soon as possible, especially as legislative sessions in Texas and elsewhere are quickly coming to an end.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki seemed to confirm this interpretation of the bill. “The original purpose of the state and local funding was to keep cops, firefighters, other essential employees at work and employed, and it wasn’t intended to cut taxes,” she said.
The best strategy for the Texas leadership would be to follow a pro-growth course that lets people prosper without government interference. This approach would seek to keep taxes lower than otherwise, reduce debt obligations and fund only one-time expenditures. And Texas should reject all or most funds with strings attached.
We don’t need to adapt our approach to taxes and spending to fit the vision of progressives in Washington; we already have the successful Texas Model, thank you very much.
We must ensure that we don’t spend taxpayer money in ways that will create fiscal cliffs later on. Boosting public education funding with ARPA, for example, would result in public education “cuts” once that money is gone, and those “cuts” would be met with loud demands for more money from Texans, as was the case after receiving President Obama’s “stimulus” funds in 2009.
We must stick with one-time purchases, or paying off things, if possible, like loans to the federal unemployment insurance trust fund of at least $6.6 billion, paying down state debt that was borrowed at a high interest rate, better funding and reforming other post-employment benefits, or funding startup costs for market-based options in education and health care.
And we would like to see a high level of transparency and accountability. Ideally, all spending related to ARPA would be separated from the rest of the state’s budget and documented clearly on a government website.
But we have something even bolder to suggest: Texas should use some of the funding to extend the border wall, addressing another growing crisis.
The best way to help Texans recover from the economic devastation wrought by the government’s response to the pandemic is simply to let them return to work. ARPA ignores this. Instead, it’s a distraction from the onerous hikes in taxes, spending, and regulation by the Biden administration.
So, if Texas is going to accept this money (and rejecting it in full or in part should be strongly considered given the many restrictions and strings attached), let’s use this taxpayer money wisely, and ensure it goes to help keep Texas Texan.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature have mainly been following fiscal conservative principles of limiting spending and reducing tax rates. Gov. Reynolds even received an “A” grade from Cato Institute’s 2020 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors for her fiscal conservatism.
As a result of conservative budgeting practices, Iowa’s fiscal house was not only prepared for the economic emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains in strong condition. Iowa’s budget has a $305 million surplus, and over $770 million in reserves.
Still, there is room for improvement.
Families across Iowa, whether in good or bad economic times, practice priority-based budgeting. Families must make decisions, often difficult ones, on how best to spend their hard-earned dollars. The same is true for small business owners across Iowa who must prioritize their spending to not only keep their doors open but meet payroll and provide for themselves.
As households across Iowa prioritize spending, governments should do the same, and even more so given it’s not their money. This results in a sound reason for government to practice priority-based budgeting or zero-based budgeting, whereby legislators take a close look at how every taxpayer dollar is spent.
Gov. Reynolds has proposed an $8.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Although this increase from the $7.77 billion FY 2021 budget does not seem like much, this growth is more than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay, as appropriately measured by population growth plus inflation.
This would compound the higher taxes that Iowans are paying to fund their government.
From 2013 to 2020, Iowa’s budget has grown 1.6 times faster than population growth plus inflation. This means that the cost of government is increasing at a faster rate than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for government. This does not include the high property tax burden placed on taxpayers by local governments or the $9 billion in federal funds that Iowa received in FY 2019.
If the budget had matched population growth plus inflation over that period, it would have saved a family of four, on average, $430 per year. This may not appear to be a large savings, but for most families an extra $430 is a vehicle payment or extra money to place in savings. Either way, it is more choices of how to spend their hard-earned dollars.
Both Gov. Reynolds and legislative leaders have voiced their concern that Iowa needs a more competitive business tax climate, which the Tax Foundation ranks 40th in the nation. Taxes and spending are two sides of the same coin and Iowa’s high individual and corporate income tax rates will not be reduced if spending is not limited.
Controlling spending will take discipline.
Iowa’s budget has a 99 percent spending limitation in law, which means that the legislature must spend at least 1 percent less than projected revenues. Strengthening the spending limit with a constitutional amendment and limiting spending to no more than population growth plus inflation would help keep spending in line with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay. This is an important measure because it accounts for more people paying taxes and higher wages that are highly correlated with inflation.
The Tax Education Foundation’s Conservative Iowa Budget sets the maximum threshold on appropriations based on population growth plus inflation over the last year. Specifically, the maximum threshold on 2022 General Funds is $7.88 billion after an increase of 1.38 percent. Achieving this feat will help keep more money in Iowans’ pockets so they have abundant opportunities to prosper.
Controlling spending is the most difficult thing for a government to achieve because the demands on government continue to grow. Numerous special interests are also applying pressure on the legislature for greater spending, which often crowds out the voice of taxpayers.
History has demonstrated that governments cannot spend and tax their way to prosperity. Iowa only needs to look at our neighbors in Illinois to see the consequences of out-of-control spending.
Policymakers should consider the Conservative Iowa Budget and work to further limit spending. Keeping spending levels low will not only serve the taxpayers’ interests, but it will also make Iowa more economically competitive so that they have more opportunities to achieve their hopes and dreams.
John Hendrickson is policy director at Tax Education Foundation of Iowa and Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation based in Austin, Texas. He is the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Trump administration.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our routines, but it doesn’t change the laws of economics. Yet it seems government is in the business of doing something when it really should do nothing, such as the recent proposals by President Biden and Congress to spend more and raise the federal minimum wage in the name of pandemic relief.
These actions would not only make a bad economic situation worse, especially for the ones the policies are intended to help, but they would destroy the unity that the president says he wants.
We’ve already seen the devastation that government action can cause during the pandemic, as the broad U6 unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.1% and almost 800,000 people are filing initial jobless claims every week. The government shutdowns are an unfolding tragedy, and we won’t know their full extent for years to come.
But, as usual, there’s another attempt to put a patch on the American economy with an unnecessary, poorly crafted monstrosity of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by June 2025.
This boondoggle sends taxpayer money to people through checks when real personal income reached a record high in 2020. Its higher unemployment payments will distort incentives to work. And it will bail out profligate state and local governments when they’ve already received nearly three times more in taxpayer funds than their estimated losses.
Collectively, this package could delay the needed reopening of our economy, the only real path to regain Americans’ taken prosperity.
The focus of a package—if it must be done—should be to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible to open America now so that people can regain their prosperity they had before the pandemic. Better yet, a pro-growth approach of spending restraint, tax relief, and deregulation would be a better federal response.
In fact, the latter two measures (tax relief and deregulation) were practiced by the Trump administration and it contributed to records of the highest real median household income and lowest poverty rate in 2019. And while President Trump’s budgets found more fiscal savings than any other president, Congress continued to spend excessively—thereby bankrupting us and our country in the process.
But what’s getting a lot of media attention recently without much consideration of its cost is the Raise the Wage Act that the Democrats in Congress are trying to push through. This arbitrary hike of the federal minimum wage would be a mistake as it would separate us in terms of economic status and further divide us as a nation. That’s not what I would consider as “unity.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, about two-thirds of Americans supported increasing the minimum wage to $15. But at what cost, given that nothing is free?
For example, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that passing the Raise the Wage Act could mean as many as 2.7 million workers lose their job and earn the real minimum wage of $0. This would also come at the cost of $54 billion more to the national debt, further bankrupting us. And while the number of people lifted up from poverty could be 900,000, many of them will face higher prices, higher taxes, and higher interest rates making it harder for even those lucky enough to not lose their jobs to make ends meet.
But this analysis misses two key points that should not be overlooked: 58.5% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16 to 24 years old, and costs of living vary greatly across states, with California being 50% more expensive than Texas.
This means that those who will be hit hardest by raising the minimum wage are those just trying to get their foot on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and typically have other sources of income. In fact, raising the minimum wage can benefit high-wage, highly skilled people at the expense of low-wage, low-skill people as employers move from labor to capital in their operations. This actually increases income inequality.
And states that have done a good job in keeping the cost of living low, like Texas (due to more pro-growth policies resulting in increased economic freedom) are hit hardest compared with those that don’t, like California. We should let federalism’s system of “laboratories of democracy” continue to prove that people vote with their feet, as the number of Californians moving to Texas increased by 36% in 2018.
America may still be suffering through the chaos of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we need more of it. President Biden should give doing nothing a chance, especially his policies that will bankrupt the country and force increased unemployment.
Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Appropriations – S/C on Article II
Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Ways & Means
Texans are ready to return to work.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business shutdowns by state and local government mandates, Texas’s unemployment rate in December sits at a staggering 7.2%, compared to 3.5% the previous year. Not only is unemployment high, but many businesses have failed or are on the verge of failing.
What can we do about it?
TPPF’s Responsible Recovery Agenda would help speed up the recovery so Texans can regain their prosperity through a pro-growth approach of spending less, taxing less, and regulating less. Having state government do less now—while understanding in some areas that will be difficult—is the solution to doing more for Texans tomorrow.
Spend less. Gov. Abbott noted in his recent State of the State speech that “we must balance the state budget without increasing taxes.” So far, this has been the case for the current 2020-21 budget and for the House and Senate versions of the 2022-23 base budget of about $251 billion. This amount is under TPPF’s Conservative Texas Budget of $246.8 billion because $6 billion is for maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Continuing to reduce spending and accepting budgets below this representation of the average taxpayer’s ability to pay (meaning population growth plus inflation) will allow Texas to start making strides toward economic recovery. This should include strengthening the state’s weak spending limit for the long run as would be the case with HB 594 (Krause) and HB 910 (Parker).
Tax less. Although taxes are necessary to fund government programs, they distort and limit economic activity in the private sector. During a time when many Texans are struggling to make ends meet, tax increases must be off the table. In fact, there should be a continued push for tax relief.
While SB 2 last session provided historic reforms to the property tax system, there are already those interested in rolling back those reforms which must be maintained and even improved upon. One way is to clarify the “disaster loophole” that some local governments are using to substantially raise property taxes.
By appropriately limiting spending, more tax relief is possible while continuing the action last session of moving Texas’s tax system more toward an efficient, fair, and pro-growth sales tax system. Movement is afoot in the Legislature to limit state spending so surplus dollars can replace school districts’ maintenance and operations property taxes, which comprise nearly half of total property taxes paid statewide. This could be done through different approaches like HB 958 (Oliverson), HB 59 (Murr), or others on the way.
Another tax to consider cutting is the business franchise tax, often called the margins tax. This tax limits a firm’s ability to hire workers and grow their business from its costly gross receipts-style tax and unnecessary complexity of tax compliance.
Regulate Less. Texas continues to excessively regulate entrepreneurial activity, many of which are unnecessary and harmful to the state’s economic freedom. The state has looked to cut regulations before the COVID-19 pandemic, but much more can be done given what we’ve learned since.
Some occupational licenses and other regulations were suspended during the efforts to relieve the economic burden holding back resources and services during the pandemic. Gov. Abbott recently said, “That is why I am asking the Legislature make permanent some of the regulatory relief that I authorized. This will cut red tape and unleash the full might of the Texas economy.” We agree.
Having unnecessary barriers to earn a living especially hurts those who do not have the time or money to get “certified.” While some regulations make sense, the Texas Legislature should take a look at each of the more than 263,000 restrictive regulations to ensure that each protects Texans and serves its intended purpose. If that’s not the case, then the regulation should be suspended, or better yet, eliminated.
An innovative idea is HB 819 (White) which would create economic zones to waive some regulations and occupational licenses in low-income areas so that people have more chances to flourish. Other bills have been filed to help remove excess barriers limiting opportunity.
Texans’ improved livelihoods through a robust recovery by opening fully and removing governmental obstacles should be a top priority. The Responsible Recovery Agenda is a roadmap that emphasizes how to do this through spending less, taxing less, and regulating less.
It feels like there’s hope on the horizon. As Gov. Abbott said in his recent State of the State speech, “With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.” The Texas economy is recovering and at long last, some normal activity is returning. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can at least see a clearing ahead.
Yet too many Texans could be left behind.
“The situation in the Houston area is particularly desperate, with almost half of residents struggling to pay basic expenses in the week ending Dec. 7, according to a Census Bureau survey,” Pew reports.
Lawmakers can help, but the help must be the right kind. History shows that our poorly designed welfare system traps too many people in poverty or near-poverty. Economists like me will tell you that people respond to incentives, and the welfare system disincentivizes self-sufficiency.
So, the best response is to unleash opportunities for people to prosper. We can reverse those incentives and show our fellow Texans that they can achieve their American dream.
How? Through what we’re calling the Opportunity Project that provides a path to dignity, self-sufficiency, and prosperity.
Let’s start with more effective training for better jobs.
We can tailor our state’s workforce development efforts more narrowly to the jobs that are out there and the skills that are needed. Texas is a prosperous state with many job opportunities, but a portion of the populace lacks the skills necessary to get and keep these jobs.
But we know what helps. Welfare-to-work programs, with the vital participation of the private sector, can change lives.
Generally speaking, such programs target disadvantaged populations, provide training in a marketable skill in addition to “soft-skills” instruction, and offer wraparound services (such as child care, transportation vouchers, housing assistance, etc.), job placement services, and follow-up services to help graduates stay on a path to success.
One example is the earn-while-you-learn program established by the Texas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) in San Antonio. The employers in the consortium offer a competitive wage that gives program participants the safety net they need to leave low-paying jobs or welfare. The payoff for employers is a steady stream of well-qualified workers.
Next, let’s lower barriers to entrepreneurship by rolling back restrictive regulations like occupational licensing.
Nationally, nearly 22 percent of jobs require an occupational license. That makes sense for doctors, but many other occupations are questionable at best—such as cosmetologists having to complete 10 times more days of training than EMTs.
And it’s not just the silly licensing rules; many licensing schemes exclude those who have a criminal conviction. We believe in second chances; that should also apply to occupational licensing, especially when the license has no direct relationship with the long-ago crime.
Finally, where we can, we must keep the existing welfare system from unintentionally trapping people in a life of helplessness.
Welfare should be reprioritized to count as “successes” those who move off and stay off it rather than those enrolled. We can streamline and simplify the sign-up process and implement efficiency audits of programs to ensure those Texans who need help receive it, while clearly defining the pathways out of welfare dependency.
Where the system creates a welfare benefits “cliff”—in which families lose benefits arbitrarily or too quickly when they re-enter the workforce—we should demand a smoothed approach that doesn’t disincentivize work.
Of course, a strong and vibrant economy is key to making this work.
Gov. Abbott made this point: “Texas has been ranked the number one state for business for 16 straight years. For the past eight years, we led the nation in economic development, and we have led America in exports for 18 straight years. The Texas model. It inspires entrepreneurs and innovators and attracts job creators from across the entire country.”
Strengthening the Texas Model is the best way to uphold this, with lower taxes (and no personal income tax), fewer unnecessary regulations, and a commitment to limited government. This framework provides more economic freedom and greater opportunity for all Texans.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but recovery is on the way. Let’s work to assure every Texan can participate when the economy opens and thereafter.
Today, the Texas House and Senate introduced their versions of the 2022-23 budget.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Chief Economist Vance Ginn, Ph.D. offered the following statement:
“At a time when many Texas families and employers are struggling financially across the state, we are glad to see the Texas Legislature come together to introduce a state budget that protects taxpayers. By maintaining last session’s property tax relief and ensuring the savings does not go to extra spending, the total 2022-23 budget comes in well below the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget. It controls spending growth, keeps property taxes lower, doesn’t raise other taxes or tap into the rainy day fund. The state budget is a responsible approach that puts Texans in a better position to recover their lives and livelihoods as soon as the economy is fully open.”
To read more about TPPF’s 2022-23 Conservative Texas Budget, please visit:
Today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) which tells the Legislature the amount of taxpayer dollars available to fund various programs like public safety, education, and health care during the upcoming session which begins Jan. 12.
“Given the COVID-19 pandemic and business shutdowns by state and local governments, the Comptroller’s budget forecast, while better than anticipated, has a great deal of uncertainty,” said Texas Public Policy Foundation Chief Economist Vance Ginn, Ph.D. “While the BRE is well above expectations and the 2020-21 budget will likely end balanced, the Legislature should continue to find savings. At a time when many families are struggling, it is essential that the Legislature maintain conservative fiscal policies, so Texans have the best opportunity to flourish. This can be done by assuring that the budget increases by no more than the maximum threshold of the Conservative Texas Budget, reducing spending where appropriate, cutting taxes, and rolling back regulations as we outlined in the Foundation’s Responsible Recovery Agenda.”
Many Americans are recovering after the economic collapse that began in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns by state and local governments.
While the strength of that recovery has weakened, a sound policy approach will help support a safe, expedited, and less debt-riddled rebound so Americans have more opportunities to prosper.
Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation released five papers that together form a responsible strategy for the state’s immediate and long-term economic growth.
“These five approaches make for good economic policy anytime,” said TPPF Chief Economist Vance Ginn, Ph.D. “But they are especially important as the state recovers from government-imposed shutdowns. Together, these strategies will help return Texas to the prosperity we saw before COVID-19 and help get us there fast.”
The Five-Step Strategy is:
“During the shutdown, the state suspended some rules and regulations, proving they weren’t essential for health and safety in the first place,” said Rod Bordelon, TPPF’s Policy Director for the Remember the Taxpayer Campaign. “Instead of waiting for the crisis to end to re-evaluate these regulations, we should repeal them now and review others in an ongoing basis so that Texans aren’t held back by unnecessary restrictions.”
The Responsible Recovery Agenda also stresses that budget writers should avoid seeking additional state revenue through increased fees and taxes.
“Raising taxes is a costly endeavor — even more so in a recession because it distorts behavior at a time when the economy is weak, delaying recovery and leading to even greater economic stress,” said Benjamin Priday, Ph.D., Economist at TPPF. “Legislators should close budget gaps first by strategically employing the Rainy Day Fund and by trying to find ways to reduce spending.
The Responsible Recovery Agenda is a comprehensive approach to addressing the budget challenges Texas faces in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns while also preserving the success of the Texas Model, which has strengthened the state’s economy.
For a historical look at the budget and other ways to improve the budget process, the Foundation also released The Real Texas Budget report.
Texas’s Economic Stabilization Fund (or “rainy day fund”) is a valuable tool for covering unexpected shortfalls in tax receipts, like those during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it should be used sparingly, and budget reductions should be prioritized instead.
The COVID-19-induced recession in Texas has strained the ability of many Texans to pay taxes to fund the state’s budget. The Legislature should consider prioritizing budget reductions to cover any potential budget shortfall.
With the Texas economy reeling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting statewide shutdowns, economic recovery will be the top issue for the upcoming legislative session. Key to any attempt at recovery will be determining how much the state should spend.
The prosperity of many Texans at stake and the Texas Legislature ought to consider fiscal savings to cover any shortfall in the current budget period and pass a responsible budget in the upcoming session that starts in January.
The Texas economy has taken a beating from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns by state and local governments. Many Texans are struggling. And a recent national poll found 65% of voters say it will take more than a year for the U.S. economy to recover.
As Texas continues to recover, the necessity of keeping the government’s hands out of the taxpayer’s pockets is as important as ever. As the economy recovers, the natural inclination is to spend as much as necessary to support Texans reeling from the effects of COVID-19.
However, the old adage that there is no such thing as government funds, only taxpayer funds, should be at the front of legislators’ minds as they attempt to address the fallout from the pandemic.
With that spirit in mind, we at TPPF recently released our latest 2022-23 Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) that sets a maximum threshold on appropriations at $246.8 billion.
This amount is the result of increasing the 2020-21 appropriations by 5% growth rate, which was calculated using the state’s population growth plus consumer price inflation to capture taxpayers’ ability to pay for their government. These appropriations exclude extraordinary funds that shouldn’t go into the baseline budget because they’re one-time costs, such as funds to Hurricane Harvey recovery and property tax relief last session and those explicitly to COVID-19 efforts.
The CTB has been a success in the sense that it has helped give state officials a maximum benchmark with which to hold appropriations to within taxpayers’ ability to pay for it. By limiting growth in the budget, legislators have helped strengthen the Texas Model of low taxes and more freedom by cutting the business margins tax and property taxes by billions of dollars since the 2015 session when TPPF created the CTB.
Specifically, the average growth of the two-year state appropriations fell from 12% during the five budgets from 2004 to 2015 to an average of just 5.5% during the last three budgets. And after appropriations grew well above population growth plus inflation of 7.3% in the earlier period, the more recent growth was below this key metric of 6.3%.
This fiscal responsibility in the last three budget cycles must be continued because the excess in the earlier period has compounded to put more pressure on taxpayers’ budgets.
For example, if the state had adhered to this metric every budget period since the 2004-05 budget, appropriations would be $37.3 billion less, saving families of four, on average, about $2,500 per year—savings which would have been invaluable with the lockdowns’ lost wages and jobs.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently reported that state sales taxes were down a whopping 6.1% in September over the prior year. This has contributed to a projected $4.6 billion deficit by the end of fiscal year 2021. Any attempt to raise appropriations above population growth plus inflation or raise taxes fails to take into consideration this deficit because it will detrimental to the recovery. The responsible action now is to cut spending as much as possible to make up the shortfall.
And to help put Texans on the best path to a full recovery from this unprecedented situation is to consider cutting wasteful and unnecessary appropriations at the very least not appropriate more than the Conservative Texas Budget in the upcoming session. Doing so will improve the proven successful Texas Model so more people have the chance to fully recover much faster than anticipated.
After the year we’ve had, we need a clear conservative fiscal approach in the upcoming session.
Today the Texas Public Policy Foundation released the threshold number for the 2022-23 Conservative Texas Budget in a live event and released a paper on the topic. The Conservative Texas Budget is an approach to the state budget limiting its growth so spending doesn’t outpace Texans’ ability to pay for it. Measured in terms of population growth plus inflation, the Conservative Texas Budget establishes a maximum threshold for growth in the state’s initial appropriations.
For the 2022-23 state budget that percentage is 5% for a total appropriation of $246.8 Billion.
“The Conservative Texas Budget is an effective maximum threshold for prioritizing the taxpayer in the state budget process as every dollar spent comes out of the pocket of Texans,” said TPPF’s Chief Economist Vance Ginn, Ph.D. “Since this approach was implemented ahead of the 2015 legislative session, budgets have grown less than half the rate of the five prior state budgets. This trend should continue for the 2022-23 Texas budget especially as many families are recovering from the recession due to COVID-19 and government lockdowns.”
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.