Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst went on the offensive today, defending in the Austin American Statesman the budget crafted by lawmakers this year from attacks that it was balanced only with the help of federal stimulus dollars.
Yes, the state used stimulus dollars as part of the budget. But, as Dewhurst writes, Texas’ constitution demands the budget be balanced.
“So it’s simply political fiction that stimulus dollars were necessary to balance our budget,” he correctly writes.
It’s undeniably true. If the dollars being handed out to the states hadn’t been there, Texas lawmakers would have had to make cuts in spending, use rainy day fund dollars, or raise taxes. Regardless, the budget would have been balanced.
Tax hikes would have sunk our economy, and the “crisis” facing Texas didn’t seem to rise to the level of being a rainy day. That would have left lawmakers to make cuts
Where would those cuts have been? Good question, and a hard one to answer in hindsight. But never underestimate the power of a fiscal noose strung about the collective necks of politicians.
Remember, in 2003 the Legislature bridged a $10 billion budget gap primarily through spending cuts and consolidation. Despite shrill cries from the left, the sky didn’t fall, children die in the streets, or the planet explode once that budget took effect.
Instead, Texas’ economy prospered and put the state in a position to weather the current economic crisis better than the rest of the nation. Not without problems, of course, but better.
What’s also true is that most of the stimulus dollars were used by the state to shore up federally mandated programs, such as the budget-buster Medicaid.
None of this isn’t to say the budget is perfect or a thing of beauty. I’m pretty sure Dewhurst isn’t making that claim, either.
There are a great many things any one of us would have done differently — priority-wise — were we to craft the budget ourselves.
The simple fact remains that it is absurd for anyone to claim the Texas budget wouldn’t have been balanced without federal dollars. It demonstrates a striking ignorance of Texas’ budget laws, or a willful disregard for the facts.