November 15, 2010
And that’s the way it should be. The budget, after all, is a moral document. It’s the clearest, truest statement of priorities you can find, really, anywhere – in family finances, in a business budget, and of course in government.
And the budget is the truest indicator of values in such a political place as the state capitol.
It’s the one thing that never fails to translate rhetoric into reality, or to expose the inadequacy of easy answers and something-for-nothing schemes.
And, as you may have heard, the budget looks impossibly difficult next year.
Of course, basic answers have been hard to come by. Most importantly, there’s been willful ignorance about how big the problem really even is.
But a lot of folks are expecting a gap of at least $20 billion or more between what the state will collect in 2012 and 2013 and what it’s on track to spend. The whispers are that it will reach $28 billion.
Now, even just $20 billion is a huge, huge number. It’s unfathomable for most people, thank goodness. It represents about a quarter of the budget that the legislature has discretion over – four-fifths of which pays for teachers, schools, colleges and universities, and health necessities of primarily children and the elderly.
And there are basically just three options we have for closing a hole this big: cuts, cash, and the kitty.
Cuts: The legislature can cut deeply and painfully into basic responsibilities and necessities: everything from schools, to health care, to parks, to public safety, to prisons, to roads. These are things that all of our people – no matter how old they are, no matter where they live, no matter how they vote – that all Texans rely on and really need.
Cash: The legislature can raise revenue from Texans at a time when folks are already feeling strapped and worried about putting food on the table. Or those controlling the long-awaited estimates can paint an impossibly, irresponsibly rosy picture of the future and pump up revenue estimates, which will make the problem look smaller now but create supersized problems for the next budget.
Finally, there’s what I call the Kitty: Legislators can drain most or all of our savings accounts, starting with the state’s roughly $8 billion Rainy Day Fund, knowing that our hard times probably aren’t over.
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