Texas 20/20 Releases Report: “Strategies for Closing the State Budget Gap”

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Key point: Texas Democrats are acting responsibly about our state's $18 billion budget deficit. Whether it is members of the 20/20 PAC, Senator Kirk Watson, Rep. Rene Oliveira, or Bill White on the campaign trail, we are the party of responsible budget leadership, while Rick Perry just wants to dig us further and further into reform.

The state budget crisis is a major campaign issue. But while we don't know who will be Governor next session, or which party will be in control in the State House, it is Texas Democrats who are leading the way to offer real solutions and thoughtful study to solving our state's $18 billion budget deficit. The 20/20 PAc joined the conversation about budget reform today, as reported this morning in the Austin American-Statesman's First Reading:

The Texas 20/20 PAC, a group of 10 Democratic legislators that calls itself “the House’s voice of moderation,” today will release a report on what states around the country have done to close their budget gaps. The author is former Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton, who was a high-ranking aide to Democratic and Republican comptrollers.

You can download the report here.

The 20/20 PAC is putting their stamp on the budget issue, in a pretty impressive way. The hire of Hamilton is a good move ot show they are being earnestly bipartisan, and not just political with their desires. With so much uncertainty going into the next session these sort of policy principles that cut across party lines are important. It's great to see the conservative House Democrats speaking out and trying to lead on this issue early on.

Other Democrats have previously called for responsible budget reform. Senator Kirk Watson has gotten in front of the issue, too. A recent article in the San Antonio Express-News, “Democrat says this may be right time for budget reform” mentioned the following:

Watson said before he'll vote to spend any of the $8.2 billion expected to be in the fund when lawmakers write the next two-year budget, leaders and lawmakers must first agree to budget reform.


Watson takes issue with tricks like the use of nearly $3.7 billion in levies ostensibly collected for particular purposes – from combating pollution to helping people struggling to pay their electric bills – being used instead to balance the budget. He's concerned about debt. He's alarmed over the continuing effects of the finance package that cut local school property tax rates without raising other state taxes enough to cover the cost.

Democrat State Representative Rene Oliveira is Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, the tax committee in the Texas Legislature. Rep. Oliveira has spoken in repeated news reports about the need for serious examination of tax exemptions. In one of the most recent stories, “Lawmakers take aim at items exempt from sales tax,” we learn the following:

“There are some easy ones (exemption eliminations) that I think Texans and a bipartisan group of House members would support, but I think people need to have the reality check of what we are facing before they will look at this as an alternative to drastic cuts,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, whose panel has been studying exemptions. “Do I think a majority of the House is ready to say yes to this? No.”

Oliveira's plowing ahead with his work, which has included determining the policy reason for each exemption and whether that reason remains valid.

While Republicans try to downplay the budget fight ahead, a recent Wall Street Journal story, “Big Texas Deficit Puts Governor in Tight Spot” suggests they shouldn't:

As the state's budget shortfall widens—to as much as $18 billion, or about 20% of the next two-year budget, according to the state legislature's latest analysis released earlier this month—critics are complaining that Mr. Perry's policies have left the state with little room to reduce spending.

“There is no way that they will be able to come up with $18 billion in cuts,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income Texans. “They would have to shut down our prison system.”

Whether it is the House Mmebers of the 20/20 PAC, Senator Kirk Watson, Representative Rene Oliveira, or Bill White on the campaign trail, Democrats are stepping up to show responsible budget leadership while Rick Perry writes a self-help book for extreme right-wing Republican wannabees.

Yet another reason why I'm proud to be a Democrat.


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.

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