“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.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.