AUSTIN — As Texans across the state struggle with record 9 percent inflation—a double whammy of less money in their pockets and higher prices at stores—state lawmakers are playing by a wildly different set of rules with taxpayer dollars.

While Texans are currently forced to limit or cut their household budgets (because most can’t just conjure up a 9 percent higher salary this year), Texas lawmakers, on the other hand, are currently allowed by state law to increase spending every year by the rate of population plus inflation—and they’ll just tax you more to cover it.

And right now, they’re planning another massive spending spree.

The Texas government is expected to take a historic $26.9 billion surplus of cash from citizens this fiscal year (that’s all extra money on top of them collecting a current $250 billion biennial budget), and lawmakers are already talking of all the new ways to expend it—rather than refund the money to the rightful, and currently struggling, owners.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads the Texas Senate, did come out in support of giving part of the people’s money back to the people (by lowering property taxes), but his current proposal would only refund $4 billion—which, spread across the entire state, won’t even be noticeable for most Texans’ property tax bills. The rest he wants to spend on more government programs.

“Every member of the Texas Senate will have ideas on how this additional revenue should be spent and I will give them full consideration,” Patrick recently wrote in a press release.

Nonprofit Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, however, has a different perspective.

“[Patrick’s proposal] would be a pathetic drop in the bucket for what is actually needed and would offer almost no actual help to taxpayers who are also currently reeling from a higher cost of living, largely due to skyrocketing prices as a result of historic 9.1% inflation and horrible U.S. monetary policy over the course of the last few years,” wrote TFR.

Indeed, even since 2000, the Republican-controlled state government has increased their spending budget almost 170 percent and is on track to triple it in just a few years, even though Texas’ population only increased 40 percent in the same period.

And as a result of the out-of-control spending sprees (by the state government and local officials across the state), Texans are now paying the sixth-highest property tax bills in the United States. Those bills have increased by 181 percent in the last 20 years.

Texas does have a new spending limits law, enacted in 2021, that is supposed to help rein in lawmakers—but again, it still allows them to let loose at the same growth rates of population plus inflation. So in other words, when times are the hardest, state lawmakers are actually enabled to tax and spend the most.

“With sky-high gas prices, historic property tax burdens, and inflation quickly dissipating the value of the dollar, most taxpayers are tightening their belts. After all, this is always what taxpayers have to do in hard times, make spending cuts to make ends meet,” said Tim Hardin, President of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “For some reason, the government doesn’t seem to think they need to do the same. As a matter of fact, in the last House Appropriations hearing, we had the [Legislative Budget Board] reminding the committee how to break the various spending limits to spend more!”

Hardin contends that the current nearly-$27 billion surplus is “not a slush fund for the Austin establishment and their lobbyist friends, but is the taxpayers’ and must be given back to its rightful owners.” TFR is also advocating their “Texas Prosperity Plan” that details eliminating property taxes for all Texans and restoring fiscal sanity in our state government. The 2022 Republican Party of Texas is also calling on the Legislature to do the same.

“The looting of Texans needs to stop and our self-proclaimed ‘conservative’ lawmakers need to show some fiscal restraint,” Hardin told Texas Scorecard. “This would mean that instead of continuing to grow a state budget that is on track to triple in the last 20 years, they should instead make cuts to actively shrink the size of government (something they all claim they are for). With less spending and more revenue, our lawmakers are in the best position they have ever been to put us on a path to property tax elimination. This would be the most helpful thing lawmakers can do for Texans, and would be sure to keep Texas on a path to prosperity for decades to come.”

State lawmakers will continue meeting over the next several months to make decisions on the new budget—and surplus cash—for the next two years. Concerned citizens may contact their state representative, senator, and the governor.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.