In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss today's release of the Texas Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate report. This report is key because the state's balanced budget amendment means this estimate provides the projected amount of taxpayer money available for the 86th Texas Legislature to appropriate during the upcoming legislative session that starts tomorrow. The revenue estimate indicates that the Legislature can pass a budget that funds legislative priorities while including taxpayers in the budget process by lowering property taxes within the average taxpayer's ability to pay.
The report notes that the 2020-21 budget will have available an estimated $265.6 billion in all funds (state funds and federal funds) (6.7% increase), $176.9 billion in state funds (7.3% increase), and $119.1 billion in general revenue-related funds (8.1% increase). Included in these amounts is an available fund balance of $4.2 billion remaining from the 2018-19 budget.
The 86th Legislature has a grand opportunity to pass what could be the third straight Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) while prioritizing taxpayers in the budget process to lower property tax bills and improve education.
Specifically, the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition, which includes the Texas Public Policy Foundation and 15 other member organizations, has set conservative spending limits on the 2020-21 budget of $234.1 billion in all funds and $156.5 billion in state funds based on an 8 percent increase in population growth plus inflation over the previous two fiscal years above current appropriations.
There are also 2018-19 supplemental bill limits of $3.6 billion in state funds and about $4.4 billion in all funds to cover unfunded expenses in the 2018-19 budget. But these amounts could be quickly reached as there's a $1.8 billion amount likely needed to fund a delayed payment to transportation and $2 billion in unfunded Medicaid expenses. Legislators will need to appropriate these dollars wisely so the 2018-19 budget can be the second straight CTB.
But the Conservative Texas Budget is a maximum to just keep in line with the average taxpayer's ability to pay. Given skyrocketing property taxes, the Legislature should add taxpayers in the budget process and limit general revenue-related funds spending so that the rest can be used for property tax relief through the TPPF proposal here. Many have claimed that Texas can't afford TPPF's proposal, but this revenue estimate shows that Texas clearly can and must for the sake of prosperity in the Lone Star State.
If the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature limited spending of general revenue-related funds to just 4% growth, that would provide $4.4 billion in new spending on budget items while allowing the rest of the 4% of those funds under the CTB of $4.1 billion to go to lowering the school maintenance & operations (M&O) property tax.
The school M&O property tax is about 45% of the total property tax burden. The $4.1 billion would amount to an almost 8% biennial cut in that portion of the property tax, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers. The school M&O property tax would continue to be lowered each session given taxpayers are part of the budget process and fully eliminated within about a decade. This process could be sped up by lowering the rainy day fund cap and using excess funds, which the rainy day fund amount could grow to more than $15 billion, to provide property tax relief.
Although slowing the growth rate of property taxes over time is good step towards reform, taxpayers want lower property tax bills for relief. The TPPF proposal works to lower property tax bills, and the Texas Comptroller's revenue estimate proves that it can and must be done.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.