Larry in the News – Breathing Room?

Breathing room?
Mike Eddleman
Taylor Daily Press
Tuesday, January 8, 2013 1:00 am

Revenue estimate may ease state budget pain

The highly-anticipated revenue estimate released by State Comptroller Susan Combs on the eve of the opening of the 83rd Texas Legislature confirmed what many officials had expected – revenues are up.

Combs said Monday that the state’s general revenue collections are estimated to be $96.2 billion for the next biennium. The estimate heading into the 2012-13 biennium was $81.1 billion.

“Texas experienced a very strong rebound from a severe recession,” Combs said. “The state’s robust economic recovery led to better-than-expected revenue collections in major taxes such as the sales tax, oil and natural gas production taxes and motor vehicle sales taxes.”

About $3.6 billion of that estimated revenue is earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund, projected to be at $8.8 billion at the end of the current biennium. Those monies come from oil and natural gas tax collections and would be capped at an estimated $14.4 billion at the end of the 2014-15 biennium.

Before the $3.9 billion is added to the Rainy Day Fund, the current balance with the estimated collections will give the legislature about $101.4 billion in general revenue funds for the 2014-15 budget.

District 52 Representative Larry Gonzales has said he would be willing to tap into a portion of the Rainy Day Fund for education funding if necessary – as he supported in the last session – although Governor Rick Perry has shown no sign of departing from his stance on keeping the fund off limits.

Perry signaled Monday that increased revenues did not mean increased spending was a given.

“Today’s revenue estimate is more evidence that we made the right decisions two years ago by budgeting carefully to meet the challenges of the national recession,” Perry said in a statement Monday. “Even as we head into the 83rd Legislative Session with higher revenues, we still need to focus on separating our wants from our needs, and continue to follow the conservative fiscal principles that have led to Texas’ ongoing success and will keep Texas strong.”

The revenue estimate also included projections for economic growth, estimating the state economy would grow 3.4 percent in the next two days and 3.9 percent in 2015.

Education groups – including the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) and the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) – were the first to chime in on the announcement from the comptroller, calling on the Legislature to restore funds cut during the last session.

“The comptroller’s updated revenue estimate makes it clear that the Legislature has enough money to do the right thing for Texas school children – and for our state’s future – and restore the $5.4 billion cut from public education last session,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “The improving economy gives Texas lawmakers an excellent opportunity to help our local schools reduce overcrowded class sizes and update instructional materials for a school population that is swelling by 80,000 students per year.”

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