As the Wall Street Journal and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have independently verified, the legislature went on a wild spending spree in 2013 – spending approximately 25% more than in the 2011 session. And they just can’t stop.
The current special session features a call to provide better funding for transportation. Legislators are instead just creating new diversions for spending without any real protections. (Sensible policies, like ending the 25 percent gas-tax diversion to public education, or dedicating the vehicle sales tax to roads, are being ignored.)
Meanwhile, lawmakers want to start diverting half of the money flowing into the Economic Stabilization Fund (the so-called “rainy day” account) over to TxDOT. In the first special session, conservatives successfully inserted a constitutional “floor” ensuring the ESF couldn’t be drained and left for dead.
Yet for all practical purposes, the new compromise in the current special would do away with the idea of a protective floor. Rather than constitutionally protect the Economic Stabilization Fund by a establishing a defined floor, spendoholic legislators want to give the Legislative Budget Board – comprised of the House Speaker, the Lieutenant Governor and their appointees – the authority to set it.
Not a sound idea, unless the goal is to never have a meaningful floor.
Remember, for two decades the LBB has been charged with setting the state’s meaningless spending limit – a limit that has never once actually served as a limit. Even though 94% of Republican primary voters want a strict, constitutionally defined population-plus-inflation limit, the GOP-controlled LBB (just like Democrat-controlled LBBs) has always gone with imaginatively-defined “limits” far exceeding that measure.
This new “floor” setting power will be no different.
No matter what they say, legislators get the joke (on taxpayers): having the LBB set “limits” and “floors” is as good (for legislators) as having none at all. The big spenders will go home to claim they protected the ESF, knowing the LBB will keep the floor low enough (and the spending limit high enough) to do as much appropriating as they want.
A few weak-kneed conservatives — eager to claim some sort of rhetorical victory — will take the illusionary floor and hope voters won’t point out the nakedness of their results.
Either way, it is cowardly policymaking: fight it or claim it, but don’t whitewash it.