Texas looks to receive $41 billion in taxpayer money provided by Congress in the $1.9 trillion American Relief Plan Act (ARPA). With $31 billion being sent to the state, this is 25% of the state’s annual budget. This excessive spending in D.C. has become the norm and now they’re trying to push their profligate spending onto Texas.
We must not let that happen, and here’s how to stop it.
ARPA funds to Texas include $11.2 billion already released to public schools. Soon, there will be $10 billion for local governments and $4 billion for only water, sewage, and broadband projects. And $15.8 billion in more flexible funding will head to the state in one payment, since Texas’s unemployment rate is more than 2 percentage points above the pre-pandemic rate.
Not only are these funds adding to the skyrocketing national debt, but they’re also more than what Texas needs. The state and local governments already have balanced budgets or surpluses. And to make matters worse, these funds come with strings attached which jeopardize state sovereignty and our republic’s future.
The U.S. Treasury recently released guidance (a Fact Sheet) for the restrictions on how state and local governments can use the ARPA funds. There will now be a 60-day period for public comments on this guidance before additional clarity will be provided.
In the meantime, it appears that the state cannot use these funds for deposits into pension funds or for direct or indirect state tax cuts, except for special cases that don’t seem to apply in Texas, even though cuts by state or local governments seem legitimate and advisable.
The tangle of strings attached to this ARPA money makes it almost impossible to shrink government. Furthermore, states with respectable fiscal track records, like Texas, are being punished while irresponsible state and local governments, like California and Austin, are being rewarded.
Given the strings attached, if the state accepts ARPA funds, Texas’ approach should be a pro-growth, long-term strategy to strengthen the state while assisting struggling Texans still affected by the pandemic and the shutdowns.
The strategy should strive to return these funds to taxpayers by reducing and keeping taxes lower than otherwise, funding only one-time expenditures, and rejecting all or most ARPA funds with strings attached.
This strategy would help avoid expanding government, reduce the impact on state sovereignty, mitigate the rising burden of the federal government’s high spending and debt, and provide relief to families.
Texas would recover faster, and would better withstand the Biden administration’s onerous policies by using the $15.8 billion in more flexible funding on the following options to Keep Texas Texan.
We should allocate $9 billion for federal unemployment trust fund loans and replenish the state unemployment fund to avoid massive tax hikes that would be needed to fund these.
We should use $5.1 billion in ARPA funds directly or those swapped out with state general revenue to complete the border wall and add border security to provide relief of the border crisis and stop using state taxpayer dollars every biennium for this purpose.
And with property taxes continuing to climb, we should use the other $1.7 billion to provide a 2-cent compression of local school M&O property taxes for additional tax relief this session. Adding the extra $3 billion that Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently announced is available would mean there’s an opportunity to provide a 5.5-cent compression. Since these are technically local taxes, this could be a way to navigate around the unwise restrictions imposed by D.C.
These expenditures should be done in a way that ensures accountability and transparency to taxpayers.
There should be no ARPA funds for ongoing expenses to avoid fiscal cliffs that led to problems a decade ago, when Democrats argued there were “cuts” to public education when Obama’s one-time “stimulus” funds ran out. And these funds should be placed in a separate budget article from the base budget like the Foundation’s Conservative Texas Budget does. And spending should be posted on the Comptroller’s or Legislative Budget Board’s website.
There are other good ideas on how to use ARPA funds, but they may be restricted because of the many strings attached, which is why there should be more clarity from the Treasury. Thus, with so many hoops to jump through, Texas should strongly consider rejecting some or all the funds.
Particularly those with strings attached that would weaken the state’s fiscal and economic situation by creating fiscal cliffs in subsequent sessions, eliminating tax relief opportunities through December 31, 2024, and more. Rejecting ARPA funds would also give Texas an opportunity to help provide relief from the Biden administration’s gambit to bankrupt America with $6 trillion either passed or proposed in legislation during his first 100 days in office.
Texas is a sovereign state. It’s time D.C. recognizes that.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.