State Budget '09 Preview Part One

The 2009 Texas Legislative session starts next week, and state lawmakers will have 140 days to wade through thousands of bills. The only bill they absolutely have to pass is the state budget. Today in the first of a 2 part series on the session, reporter Ben Philpott reports passing the massive spending bill could be more difficult this year, considering the national economy.
The national recession is created at least a couple of downward forces on the next state budget. One is property values, which in Texas have not increased as expected. That means fewer local tax dollars for schools and more state money to make the difference.  Dick Lavine follows the state budget for the Center for Public Policy Priorities a progressive state policy think tank.

"In my estimate is in the change in the controller's estimate of property value growth means that the state is going to have to put in 300 million dollars more in the current fiscal year than was originally expected."

Another budget concern, the sagging oil market has chipped away at the state's permanent school fund.  That could mean more than a billion dollars the state was counting on to pay for school textbooks will have to come from general revenue. Although State Senator Steve Ogden says the Texas is still not in bad shape.

"The glass is half full here. We are not broke. We are not facing draconian cuts.  The only question is whether we're going to substantially increase funding in various areas of state government  or not.  But we'll be able to maintain — under every scenario I've seen— at least what we are doing now."


The cautionary, but not panicky demeanor at the Capitol comes in large part from sales tax revenue continue to grow.  And sales tax receipts pay for more than half of the state budget. 

RJ DeSilva is a spokesman for Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

 "So far, in this current fiscal year, there has been growth. Maybe not as much growth as we've seen in the past few years. But there has been about four percent in the sales tax revenue."

And as long as that revenue continues to grow, so could the budget.  Current house appropriations chair, Republican Warren Chisum says he believes the state will have a budget five percent larger than the current biennium. Senator Odgen hopes Representative Chisum is right.

"I'm operating under the assumption, right now, that I have to produce a budget with zero growth, so if it's five we are home free."

Sales tax and revenue projections get much clearer Monday. That's when Comptroller Combs releases her budget revenue estimate.  The projection will tell lawmakers how much money they have to spend in the 2010-2011 budget.