• August 8, 2020

TEXAS VIEW: Texas’ state budget is in a shambles - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Texas’ state budget is in a shambles

THE POINT: Let’s not make it worse with shortsighted decisions.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 2:30 am

The numbers are in, and they aren’t pretty.

Budget estimators had calculated that lawmakers would have $121 billion to spend in the next session. Now that estimate is roughly $110 billion and could be even less if the economy worsens. And instead of having a $2.9 billion surplus, lawmakers are looking at a $4.6 billion deficit when they return to Austin in January.

Households and businesses across Texas are experiencing an equally shocking reversal of fortunes. Everywhere, families and businesses are making tough decisions about what to fund and what to jettison. However, the key to wise decision-making is knowing when cuts begin to slash muscle and bone.

Not all dollars cut from a budget have an equal impact on operations. Lawmakers must be mindful of that and tap the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund, to sustain crucial strategic investments, especially in schools and health care. There should be about $8.8 billion in the rainy day fund, and this certainly is a rainy day.

Texas should have learned this the hard way from past mistakes. In the 2012-13 budget, lawmakers cut more than $5 billion from public schools and almost $6 billion from other state services. The state was rebuilding from those cuts with HB 3 giving schools the most funding that they had seen in years. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Repeating this mistake next year would significantly reverse the 2019 Legislature’s promise to improve PreK-12 education and have generational impacts on Texans. And, of course, cuts to health and human services would strip needed resources from underserved communities that face poverty and medical hardships.

The economic downturn has come quickly. The Texas economy had been expanding at rates that outpaced the nation, offering hopes that a budget surplus would help lawmakers fund the state’s increased commitment to funding public schools, among other things, and pay for Medicaid and other programs that were underfunded in the current budget.

Texans shouldn’t put on blinders and expect a quick economic rebound to provide budget relief. Improvement in the Texas economy most likely will be gradual with starts and stops along the way. Economic uncertainty will challenge us well into the future.

The state is in a deep financial hole and will remain there until confidence that the pandemic is abating and more robust economic activity returns. And we can hasten a return to the Texas we have known if we take responsibility to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands and staying away from potential “superspreader” gatherings aren’t just health safety measures; they’re also economic prerequisites to help lift an embattled economy.

In this new economic environment, our choices must be made with a clear resolve to avoid quick fixes that would compromise both our present and our future.

Odessa, TX

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