Texas public policy foundation
The Real Texas budget: taxpayers deserve transparency
 
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By Dr. Vance Ginn and Melissa Schlosberg

The 2015 Texas Legislative Session was historic as legislators passed a conservative budget that increased by less than the key economic metric of population growth plus inflation and $4 billion in tax and fee relief. The Conservative Texas Budget Coalition congratulated the Legislature for these results since it helped to reduce the growth of government giving Texans a better opportunity to reach their full potential.

Although this was a favorable outcome, there’s work for the Legislature to do in 2017 to correct spending excesses since fiscal year (FY) 2004.

After examining Texas budget data since then, the Foundation published The Real Texas Budget: Why Texas Needs to Ratchet Down Spending Growth that highlights findings in a corresponding spreadsheet which include:

  • Government spending has increased 11.8 percent faster than the rate of population growth plus inflation since FY 2004. In the current budget cycle, this costs taxpayers $22.1 billion more than if the Legislature had increased the budget by the increase in this key metric each period. This translates into average families of four paying $1,600 more to fund state government (read higher taxes) than otherwise this year.
  • Because of backfilling (appropriating dollars in one session to cover underfunded programs during the previous budget period), biennial spending almost always exceeds the amount the Legislature previously appropriated.
  • Appropriations for the current biennium are 4.3 percent higher than the previous one, indicating that spending this biennium will be less than population growth plus inflation as measured by the actual increase in this metric of 6.5 percent during fiscal years 2013 and 2014. However, appropriations of state (non-federal) funds and general revenue funds were higher than this key metric.

Since the 2004-05 budget, Texas has spent $39 billion more dollars than initially appropriated. Figure 1 illustrates the backfilling over this period, which is especially apparent in the 2012-13 budget cycle when the 2013 Legislature covered the underfunded amounts to Medicaid and K-12 Schools by the 2011 Legislature.

In The Real Texas Budget, the Foundation provides Texans with the ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent. We also highlight the need for increasing budget transparency by the following legislative recommendations:

  • Convert the budget to a program-based format that lists each agency’s income and expense by program and the source of funds for each line item. This will allow citizens to track funds and recognize unnecessary or ineffective spending.
  • Provide budget data online in a timely manner. Although budget information is currently provided, it often takes weeks or months before it’s published in print or posted online. Instead, near real-time updates throughout the legislative process that are posted online, such as the Legislative Budget Board’s State Budget by Program tool, would better inform taxpayers.

Given the accounting tricks and gimmicks by the Legislature, it’s imperative that citizens have a better idea of where their hard-working dollars are going and that they are not being spent excessively. The Real Texas Budget provides Texans with answers.