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.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.