Much of the buzz surrounding the 82nd Legislative Session seems to be fueled by angst over writing the next state budget and how legislators will make ends meet in the face of expected budgetary “shortfall.” Conservative legislators and Texans, however, should be excited by the opportunity this process represents.

At the beginning of the second week of January 2011, Comptroller Combs released her much-anticipated estimate for available revenue during the next two-year budgeting cycle. In addition to placing the state’s projected general revenue at $77.3 billion (with an actual $72.2 billion to spend after money is stashed in the Rainy Day Fund and $4.3 billion is used to cover the current budget’s deficit), Ms. Combs indicated that while the states pot of spending money was a little lighter this year due to sales tax revenue being lower than projected, we are expected to see an 8% rise over the next biennium.

The heartening news here is that Texas’ economy is showing solid signs of recovery picking up over half of the jobs lost during the worst of the recession, and the state’s economy is projected to steadily expand over the next few years.

This news for the future is very good as further proof that Texas is weathering the national recession far better than most states. Currently however, we do face the challenge of writing a state budget under tighter conditions.

While some are worried, conservatives should be excited. This challenge should be viewed as an opportunity.

Because our resources are more limited, we have the opportunity to truly take a close look at our state government and consider its role in our lives, to examine state expenditures deciding what is essential versus what is non-essential, and (like we do at home) distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.

On the whole, Texans issued a clear mandate to their elected officials in November. They want a more limited government with less spending and no new taxes.

Texas lawmakers need to listen to their electorate and balance this budget without increasing taxes or creating “new revenue streams” while looking to enhance government efficiency. Some spending reductions will be difficult, as it’s been difficult for families across Texas these past few years, but lawmakers must correctly prioritize how the people’s money is spent.

Legislators must also not become weak in the knees when it comes to making tough decisions because they fear that people won’t like them if they do. After campaigning on fiscal responsibility, legislators should not hesitate to make fiscally responsible choices. The people elected their representatives on those principles and promises and will respect an official that follows through on their commitments.

With a super-majority in the Texas House, Republicans have a golden opportunity to demonstrate that amidst a challenging budgetary process they are willing to lead with the commonsense conservative principles they campaigned on, leaving Texas a more efficient, free and prosperous then they found it.

Andrew Kerr is the Executive Director of Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility

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