State Budget '09 Preview Part Two

State legislatures all over the country are facing lower revenues and budget cuts because of the national recession. That's not the case in Texas, but state lawmakers are still worried. In part 2 of his series on the legislative session that begins tomorrow, reporter Ben Philpott says no one can say which programs will be cut or reduced, if any.
There are thousands of moving parts to the mechanisms that create the Texas budget.
Lawmakers have spent most of the year doing preliminary work on the bill. But the machinery really gets going once Comptroller Susan Combs releases her revenue estimate.

Representative Garnet Coleman a Houston Democrat says the report, no matter the writer always has a tone of cautious desperation.

"There's never enough money, even when we have a surplus, because that is the first thing that budget-tiers say."

With the national recession there is no reason to think they same won't be the same this year. But at the same time this budget will be written when there could be more need for social safety net programs. So far president-elect Barack Obama seems ready to help out by boasting federal spending.

Dick Lavine follows the budget for the Center for Public Policy Priorities a progressive policy think tank.

"They could just raise the match rate on the current, say health insurance program. So for every dollar the state would put in the federal government would put in more. Which would either save us money, or mean we could cover more people, because unfortunately, there may be more a lot more people needing help because of the economy."

But with other programs, like the Children Health Insurance program, federal eligibility expansion could only be utilized if the states spend some money too. Again Representative Coleman.

"There will be a new chip bill in Congress it will probably go to 300-350 percent of poverty. And if we don't fund that our federal money will go to another state."

The line of programs seeking more money in the new budget goes beyond social services. Public colleges and universities say they need more state help because of the stock market crash means less money coming from the school's endowments.

And the Texas population continues to boom, so just about every state service has more people buying for service. That includes enrollment growth alone an additional 2 billion dollars and lawmakers had previously promised an additional  2 billion increase in overall school funding .

State Senator Steve Ogden and Florence Shapiro still hope that promise can be kept.

"Wait and see. Ya know, I hate talking about something I haven't filed yet."

"It's our goal. It's our goal to have find a way to do that, but we are doing that right now."

"I think we can do it in the base budget."


There are a couple of factors that could help keep that promise. The state is currently sitting on a multibillion dollar revenue surplus.  Although, exactly how much money that is has been hotly debated. And the state's rainy day fund, which gets its money from oil and natural gas revenues, should have a healthy balance thanks to previously high energy prices.

But  Shapiro and Ogden say lawmakers need to make sure that the state leaves some of that in the bank for the next state budget process during the 2011 legislative session.

"I think it is very important that we look to the future. Nobody has the best crystal ball. Based on what we are seeing now, we have to make sure we are not in the hole in the next biennium."

"And dig us a hole we can't get out of."

"That's right"

 
The budget could hit the floor of the House and Senate in April.