How much will the Legislature end up spending on the budget? That depends on if they vote to bust the spending cap. With only $685 Million of room to spare, they’ll need to if they still want to spend an additional $2 billion on water.
With reckless disregard for any priorities over spending, the House passed HB 4 two weeks ago that set up the funding mechanism for a new debt-creation machine in order to show how serious they are about “funding water.” It’s the House’s intention to fill that mechanism via HB 11, which appropriates $2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund in order to get it started.
Only problem: the House and Senate have already debated and amended their version of the state budget. The only thing left to do is hammer out the discrepancies in conference committee. And because budget writers in the House were more than eager to find more ways to spend your money, they’ve left themselves only $685 Million worth of room until they hit the limit on spending set by the Legislative Budget Board.
The LBB so far has said any appropriations from the Economic Stabilization Fund (like from HB 11) would count against the spending limit because the money is from a nondedicated source.
So now in order for the Legislature to spend that additional $2 billion on water via HB 11, they have to vote to bust the LBB spending cap.
Such a decision arguably could have been avoided with prudent planning—something House leadership seemed uninterested in. Just take a look at what Rep. Allan Ritter* (author of HB 4/HB 11) told Rep. Van Taylor when he inquired about it at the beginning of Thursday’s budget deliberations:
REPRESENTATIVE TAYLOR: Last week, we passed HB 4—a bill that you’re very familiar with—and to fund that, we need HB 11—also a bill you’re very familiar with—that would spend $2 billion out of the economic stabilization fund which, I believe, would “bust the spending cap.” Wouldn’t it be in order for us to look at if we re going to try to bust the spending cap and pass that bill before we pass this bill?
CHAIR (Ritter in the chair): Mr. Taylor, the bill on the calendar today is SB 1.
Whether HB 11 busts the spending cap—or another bill—that should be taken up at the time that it comes up.
TAYLOR: Would you recognize me for a motion to address whether or not we’re going to bust the spending—I mean, do that bill first and then do the budget so we can have a holistic approach to this?
CHAIR: Not at this time.
Well now the time to make room in the budget for HB 11 has come and gone, so the Legislature will be forced to decide whether they want to bust the budget cap when HB 11 comes up for debate.
Only 15 Republicans in the House voted with the intention to protect the Economic Stabilization Fund during discussions on HB 4, despite many of them pledging to do so during campaign season. Will lawmakers similarly have no qualms about voting to spend more than they are statutorily authorized?
Unfortunately for taxpayers, it only takes a majority.
*Rep. Ritter was in the speaker’s chair during Rep. Taylor’s parliamentary inquiry. It’s common during floor proceedings for members to serve temporarily as speaker while the Speaker of the House is not at the dais.