While the Texas House passed a state budget for 2012-2013 that stays within the taxpayers’ means, a document floating around the Texas Senate carries ideas to bring in new revenues – more than $1 billion through new and increased taxes. It also employs budget mirrors and fiscal smoke.

Since originally posting this, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has assured me that he had not seen the document until we posted it, and reiterated his opposition to new taxes. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst described the document as a collection of “all ideas” out there to bring in new revenues. (Changes to the original through, and noted in bold.)

I obtained a copy of an April 4 collection of ideas titled “New Money – Decision Document.” (Download a scanned PDF.) I am told by a reliable source this was put together by the Senate Finance subcommittee chaired by Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) that finds something like $5.5 billion in revenues.

To be fair, the document contains some very laudable ideas, like selling off state properties and improving tax collections.

On the other hand, the ideas presented engage in some of the kind of smoke-and-mirrors many have said they want to avoid.

The ideas presented include delaying $193 million of payments of the constitutionally dedicated motor fuels tax revenues into the road and bridge accounts. Basically it means the dollars get diverted even before they get deposited by delaying them for budgetary games! This is how taxes, passed only because they were strictly confined to an essential use, become part of the general revenue money pit.

(Games like this with constitutionally dedicated taxes are supposed to be stopped, not enhanced.)

The ideas presented would also allow the balances of the Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund to be used to certify the budget as being balanced. Very smoky; let’s just get rid of these funds, not use them to obfuscate spending.

Finally, the ideas document contains a bevy of higher taxes, new application of taxes, ending of exemptions, and the like, amounting to more than $1 billion in revenues for the state. That includes things like eliminating the “resident” exemption from hotel taxes, and eliminating the tax on computer programming services.

It also suggests creation of a $100 “surcharge” on new vehicles considered to be inefficient, while imposing a new tax (or, in the smoke-and-mirror parlance of the day, an “assessment”) on satellite television services.

Soccer moms will no doubt be filling minivans with pitchforks and torches if they find the Senate Finance subcommittee follows through on a recommendation that also contemplates doing away with the before-school sales tax holiday.

The subcommittee will allegedly be meeting next week or later to release their final report. It will be interesting to see how differently that final report is from this.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has been steadfast in his opposition to new taxes and budget tricks. Hopefully, the Senate will do likewise.


Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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