Normally state agency appropriation requests are about as interesting as a Sky Mall magazine, but many this year have the makings of a Stephen King novel and conjure doomsday scenarios that would make even Chicken Little blush.
So what gives? Why the doom and gloom predictions?
Four percent budget cuts.
Anticipating a financial shortfall when lawmakers return to Austin, three months ago the “Big Three,” Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus, sent a letter to state agencies requiring the vast majority of them to review their budgets and come back with cuts.
Now, agencies are responding with what the Austin American Statesman calls “fatalism and flair.”
The results of imposing the cuts run from the “blood in the streets” position of DPS’ proposed budget in which “900 ‘high risk criminals’ would go unarrested by DPS and troopers would let nearly one hundred potential traffic scofflaws pass unmolested every day” to the fiscal disaster predicted by the Texas Lottery Commission where a minor cut leads to $1 billion in less revenue.
That level of drama is, unfortunately, nothing new for many state agencies.
Just last year, as lawmakers debated campus carry, many of the state’s universities came to Austin with massive fiscal compliance rejections.
“Allowing concealed handgun license holders to tote pistols on college campuses could cost tens of millions of dollars, a burden that could be ultimately passed on to students or siphoned away from education and research programs at Texas universities,” read the lead in a Houston Chronicle report titled “Campus Carry would cost Texas colleges millions.”
Estimates for universities to comply with the law ranged from $15 to $47 million, a talking point that allowed the state’s Democrats to use fiscal conservatism as a weapon against Republicans.
Despite such efforts the law was ultimately passed and universities were forced to prepare for campus carry which began on August 1st of this year. The bill wasn’t in the tens of millions, or even in the millions.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the total cost was $960,000.
The simple truth is governmental agencies recognize that by surrendering funding they’re surrendering power. As a result they will always fight tooth and nail against any demand to tighten their belts.
As the Statesman points out, “inciting anxiety is a time-honored tactic to deflect cuts.” Just as the first move of the Obama administration was to shut down the national parks, state agencies are hoping the doomsday scenarios they’ve conjured will scare off lawmakers from making good on their demand for cuts.
Texans should view these budget proposals with a heavy dose of skepticism while keeping an eye out for waste, fraud, and abuse that can be cut instead of vital programs. State leaders’ calls for the implementation of zero based budgeting could go a long way toward identifying those line items.