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Does your home budget-making process begin with the question, “how much should I take out of savings this month?” – Didn’t think so… But apparently, it’s a common starting point for some in the Texas legislature faced with making tough budget decisions.

Whether at home or at the state capitol, it seems off kilter to begin discussions on how to balance your budget by essentially deciding not to balance it outright, but to first draw from your savings account to cover expenses. Currently, this seems to be the conversation many in Austin are having.

The “shock and awe” version of the budget (featuring dramatic cuts instead of obvious ones) presented to legislators is having it’s intended effect: some are shunning tough decisions while encouraging the use of additional revenue streams. Indeed by virtue of this “shock therapy” many legislators who campaigned on staunch fiscal restraint and limiting the size of government are now approaching the budget in a backwards fashion by wanting to bring revenue up to spending levels rather than adjusting spending to match income – and relying on the state’s Rainy Day Fund to bring revenues up is a tricky and dangerous business.

While approaching a budget where our spending habits exceed our income, our state leaders need to first closely examine everything we are spending money on before taking any consideration of drawing from the state’s savings account. Last November voters sent legislators to Austin with the directive to limit government and cut spending without raising taxes. Recent polls indicate that Texas voters are more supportive of those looking to cut spending than those wanting to raise taxes.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, state spending has increased almost 300% (139% when adjusted for inflation) between 1990 and 2010. This rate of spending cannot be sustained without dramatically increasing the burden of government on the people of Texas. Putting off our spending problem to another day by relying on the RDF is more detrimental than helpful.

Governor Perry reinforced this message yesterday in the State of the State:

Emptying the savings account to pay for recurring expenses is a bad idea, whether it happens at home, the workplace or in our state budget. That approach would not only postpone tough, necessary decisions, but also leave us ill-equipped to handle bigger emergencies in the future. Therefore, we must protect the Rainy Day Fund.

Texas’ legislators need to take a serious look at how they have been spending the taxpayer’s money, examine the helpful budget proposals offered by the Governor and folks like the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute before even considering dipping into the RDF. At the end of it all, if RDF dollars are absolutely needed to balance the budget, those funds should only be used only for non-reoccurring expenses.

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

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