Talmadge Heflin, TPPF Propose Ignoring Budget Problem as Solution

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Last Saturday, Jason Embry of the Austin American Statesman, wrote how Texans want to maintain current levels of social services from the state.

More than half of Texas' voters want lawmakers to spare public education and health care programs for children and lower-income families from spending cuts during the legislative session that starts this week, according to a new poll commissioned by the Austin American-Statesman and other newspapers.

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Some 70 percent of respondents said lawmakers should not cut school spending, and 61 percent said they want no spending cuts on health care programs for children and low- to moderate-income families.

Since then, State Comptroller Susan Combs, has released budget figures that show the state to be taking on far less revenue than originally projected. Our new budget shortfall appears to be at least $27 billion and could easily be larger.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities discussed the dire situation.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts delivered her constitutionally required biennial revenue estimate. While she projects continuing economic recovery, her forecast shows a $4.3 billion deficit in the current budget and only $5 billion more in General Revenue for the upcoming two fiscal years than in the current biennium adjusted for the deficit. When increased population and higher costs are taken into account, Texas is at least $26.8 billion short of the General Revenue needed to provide for current services into the next biennium. In other words, we are short by at least 25 percent.

“With a revenue shortfall this large, the Legislature cannot write a budget through cuts alone without doing terrible damage to Texans and to the Texas economy. For example, cuts alone mean shortchanging our children's education from kindergarten through college. Cuts alone mean compromising public safety. Cuts alone mean suffering for children, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Cuts alone mean losing jobs and curtailing economic development.

“Instead, the Legislature should do what Texas families do. When Texas families face tough times, they use their savings and try to raise more money before they resort to cutting back on things their family really needs. The Legislature should take a similar balanced approach.”

With Republicans in charge of the Texas House, Senate and holding every office in the executive branch, voters have entrusted them to offer a plan of action.

Sadly, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a Republican think-tank, is echoing Rick Perry and many Texas House Republicans in the call to freeze revenue at 2009 levels and it appears they want to continue to ignore the structural deficits they have created.

The TPPF wants to go one big step forward from that plan. They want to ignore the budget shortfall all together.

Former Republican House Member Talmadge Heflin wrote, “This is not to say that the process of developing a 2012-13 state budget will be a walk in the park. But claims that Texas is $27 billion in the red are flat-out false.”

Keep in mind, Heflin lost his seat, in part, because of his inability to solve the 2003 budget crisis. Voters rejected Heflin's Norquits style cuts and draconian measures to reduce the size of government on the backs of working Texans.

Heflin and TPPF are pushing their Republican Party friends to cut bone and do exactly what Texans told the Austin American Statesman they don't want.

The $27 billion figure in certain media accounts is premised on the belief that the state should carry forward all current spending and assumptions regarding program growth. But in difficult times, taxpayers cannot continue to spend money for programs and agencies in the same fashion as previous times when more resources were available.

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The most important point tracks back to Combs' statement that spending levels are the prerogative of the Legislature. Officially, there is no shortfall until there is an introduced budget that provides a preliminary expression of the Legislature's desired spending level. If the House leadership follows through on its stated intention to introduce a budget that fits within available revenues, there will be no shortfall.

The bizarre new tactic to ignore the root problem and ignore the known wishes of voters is interesting. Voters have said they don't want a cut in social services. We don't have the money to maintain social services because of structural deficits and bad revenue policies. Therefore, we have a shortfall of revenue to pay for social services and maintain state agencies. Never having served a day in public office this still seems pretty clear. So clear, every news outlet and policy institute has been talking about a budget shortfall since June 2010.

The only people who want to ignore the budget woes seem to be the TPPF, Heflin, Rick Perry and the far right of the Republican Party.

It's time to stop with the budget shell game. The shortfall is not an illusion. And now that the session has started, it is time for debate how we move Texas forward.

Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. With voters telling elected officials to protect social programs, it is time to discuss how we fix the budget problems going forward and respect the wishes of Texans. Or, will the new crop of elected officials ignore the will of Texans and take on a slash and burn approach to social services in order to avoid tough decisions. Heflin and TPPF are trying to create a shield for the latter with falsehoods.

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