When government growth outpaces the people it serves, ordinary citizens lose. At the end of the current 2016-17 fiscal biennium, Texas government will have spent more than $1.2 trillion in a little over the last 14 years. This amount represents an 11.8 percent increase over population and inflation, the most realistic measure for allowing reasonable growth in government spending, and translates into $22 billion more taxpayers must remit in the current fiscal year.
Historical Texas Spending by Biennium (in Billions)
Sources: Legislative Budget Board and Texas Public Policy Foundation
Following weeks of negotiation between chambers, the conference committee report on Senate Bill 1, the Appropriations Act, sets out an all-funds budget of $218.56 billion for the 2018-19 biennium. The total falls in the neighborhood of about $2 billion less than what population and inflation growth would suggest is a conservative increase over the last budget, but does not yet account for next session’s supplemental appropriation. Assuming the supplemented total remains under that mark, Texas may be on its way towards a second consecutive conservative budget in terms of raw spending.
While total spending is cause for encouragement, SB 1 was a mixed bag at the ground level.
- Fully funds border security by maintaining $800M in appropriations
- Fully funds the Foundation School Program, including 80,000-student enrollment growth
- Includes $500M for 600 additional Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) workers
- Adds $230M for mental health services
- Strengthens the ban on any state funds going to Planned Parenthood
- Adds funds for the teacher retirement and health care systems
- Does not defer payments to the Foundation School Program
- Increases Alternatives to Abortion program budget from $18M to $35M
- Provides no new funding for government-run pre-kindergarten program
- Draws $900M from the Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund in-part for state facility and historic site renovation
- Delays $1.8B State Highway Fund diversion payment to next biennium
- Not only restores corporate welfare and crony capitalism (Enterprise Fund and film subsidies) that were largely stripped out by the Freedom Caucus, but adds $100M in new funding
- Conference committee report, over 900 pages, was presented to the public a mere 36 hours before a final vote
- Directs $293M in already-earmarked school funding toward government-run pre-kindergarten
- Does not fully fund expected cost growth of certain programs, most notably Medicaid
- Does not include Higher Education spending reform of university “special items”
The House Freedom Caucus released a statement following final passage of the budget.
“We voted yes on the final Texas budget because it returns us to a rare place in budget history: meaningful restraint in state spending relative to population growth and inflation. This was our top budget priority. We still don’t have the votes to eliminate the portions of the budget that violate core conservative principles. We will tell the truth about your money and keep fighting.”
The final vote on the conference committee report was 135-14 in the House, and 30-1 in the Senate. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar certified the budget on Friday of last week, saying “It’s a conservative budget that maintains our traditional support for limited government.”
While the legislature missed several opportunities to enhance good governance and to advance a better Texas model of low tax and reasonable regulation, considerable gains were made that can serve as the foundation for progress in sessions to come.