September 9, 2010
The 2003 budget estimate surprise when then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn raised her appraisal of the impending fiscal shortfall from $5 billion to $10 billion caught practically everyone by surprise, including then and current Gov. Rick Perry.
The question being asked in political circles in recent weeks is, given what happened in 2003, why wouldn’t state leaders ask the current Comptroller to give some advance inkling on what will be the level of shortfall next biennium? For now, the only estimates are coming from the House’s budget writers and the Legislative Budget Board.
Well, Perry got asked that question today while speaking with the press after his receiving the endorsement of the Texas State Association of Firefighters. His answer in a nutshell was, “I trust this Comptroller more than that one.”
“That Comptroller missed the budget estimate by a factor of two so let’s wait until we really know what the numbers are,” Perry said in response to the question from the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey. At the time, of course, it was widely speculated that Strayhorn was aiming to challenge Perry for the governorship – something that she eventually did by launching an independent campaign in 2006.
That is something that has never been said about Susan Combs, the current Comptroller. Ramsey followed up by asking if Perry fears that Combs might do something similar and revise up the budget shortfall – estimated now at between $18 billion and $20 billion – at the last minute.
“I have no idea,” Perry replied. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in this Comptroller.”
Between excoriating Strayhorn’s budget estimating abilities and expressing confidence in Combs, Perry said the state should continue to follow existing processes on handling the budget estimate.
“I don’t particularly think it’s a good use of the Comptroller’s time to be doing budget estimates every time somebody pokes their head up out of the hole and says, let’s do a budget estimate,” Perry said. “I think our process works. It has worked well for decades and decades in Texas and I’m not particularly concerned that we’re not going to be able to deal with the budget. At the end of the day, we will have a balanced budget without raising taxes.”
So, basically, the message is this: the process works unless it doesn’t so we shouldn’t do anything differently.
It should be pointed out that the Comptroller’s chief revenue estimator was pressed on this question in mid-August by House Ways & Means Chairman René Oliveira (D-Brownsville). At the time, the Comptroller’s representative said that work on the biennial revenue estimate (BRE) had already begun. The next four-and-a-half months, though, would be crucial in determining the shape of the developing economic recovery. As such, issuing a revised revenue estimate before January would be premature.