In the Blue Virginia piece “The Phony Texas ‘Miracle'”, blogger “Elaine” laments Texas’ support for fiscal sanity and blames the entirety of the state’s ills on limited government principles.
But if those left-leaning Virginians are going to criticize Texas, they first need to get their facts straight.
The piece’s first erroneous assessment is of this year’s budget deficit. But the term “budget deficit” can’t necessarily be used to describe Texas since the state legislature uses zero-based budgeting. Each new biennium, Texas lawmakers begin budgeting at zero (as opposed to states that use the previous year’s budget as a starting point) and go from there. Starting from scratch, they then fund each program with the amount of revenue they project will be available. When Elaine claims that Texas “had a budget deficit of $26 billion” she fails to mention the fact that the $26 billion figure assumed spending would increase concurrently with population growth and inflation. When this assumption was ignored, 2012-13 revenue was projected to be just $11-15 billion less than during the previous 2-year period.
The next target of criticism is the state’s “reduction” in firefighting expenditures. With a faint implication that budget cuts might be to blame for certain natural disasters, Elaine claims that funding for the Texas Forest Service, the agency responsible for wildfire suppression, had been reduced by 30% this year. Conveniently omitted is mention of the agency’s one-time $34 million equipment supplement last biennium, as well as the fact that current Forest Service funding is higher now than in any year before 2010.
The reaction to Forest Service cuts don’t quite compare with the outrage that cuts to education caused. In July of this year, Texas lawmakers cut $4 billion from the 2012-13 K-12 education budgets, which drew a fair share of criticism from the left. How “draconian” the budget cuts are is up for debate, but in reality, their effects might not be so dramatic.
A lot of critics have anticipated over 100,000 teacher layoffs in the wake of the budget cuts, but so far, those layoffs have failed to emerge. According to the Texas Education Agency, the state employs “more than 320,000 teachers.” But according to documents released by the TEA last week, the state continued to employ nearly 340,000 teachers as of September 1. The firing scare has yet to materialize, and likely never will. School districts have coped with less money by increasing classroom size by a student or two, implementing efficiencies and cutting unnecessary programs.
Next on the list of denunciations is Texas’ high poverty rate (which has been refuted numerous times), accompanied by vague references to an above-average high school dropout rate (the product of high mobility) and high rates of uninsured (a product of migration-enhanced unemployment).
Elaine finally alleges that the “Texas miracle” has made the state one of the poorest in the nation – 47 out of 50 in median household wealth. But according to the US Census Bureau, the median Texas household pulled in $48,259 in 2009, the 26th-highest of all states. However, when compounded with an extremely low cost-of-living, Texas is one of the wealthiest states in the country.
Differences in opinions are inevitable when discussing the general role of government, but whatever position one holds, facts need to be checked and claims must be verified. Blue Virginia is no exception.