It was only a matter of time. The so-called “conservative” Texas Senate is really a populist body with a social conservative agenda. The fearless
ego leader of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has always been a populist behind his rhetorical conservative front.
The Lt. Gov. and his minions are now proposing to break the spending cap in Texas so that they will have more money to spend. But they don’t want to do it directly, they want to trick the voters of Texas into doing it for them. From Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News:
A constitutional spending limit, though, is starting to bite. The steep reductions to spending lawmakers passed in 2011 re-set the spending base at a very low level. And fiscal hawks and tea party activists have made it a litmus test of purity that lawmakers not let spending rebound to pre-recession levels, especially if it’s also adjusted upward to cover inflation and population growth.
The answer to Senate budget writers’ dilemma? Amend the state constitution so that tax cuts and paying off bonds early do not count toward the cap.
This reminds me of an argument that then radio host Dan Patrick had with then Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Patrick was railing about the Rainy Day Fund, insisting that the money belonged to taxpayers and should be refunded to them rather than sitting in an account with the state. Dewhurst patiently explained both the need for the fund and the fact that the spending cap made it too expensive to do.
Some of you may be thinking that tax cuts shouldn’t count against the spending limit but you need to rethink that if you are a fiscal conservative. The whole purpose for populist Dan et. al. to propose this is so that they can spend more money. That’s right, SPEND MORE MONEY without taking a vote to spend more money.
Once again, Erica Grieder of Texas Monthly is all over this nonsense. In her post titled So Much for Fiscal Responsibility, she takes the Senate to the fiscal conservative woodshed.
Aman Batheja, at the Texas Tribune, summarizes the idea: the Senate’s budget writers are suggesting that money spent on paying down state debt and lowering property taxes not be counted towards the spending cap. This is an alternative to the current options: spend less money, or voting to bust the cap. Patrick’s explanation is telling:
“We have more money on hand than we believe any Legislature has ever had at one moment in time dealing with budget issues,” Patrick said. “There is no support for exceeding the spending cap but that also means that when we leave, we will have approximately $4.5 to $5 billion in the state’s checking account.”
Well…yes. That is, as it happens, how the spending cap is designed to work. It’s also why voters amended the Texas Constitution to include a spending cap in the first place. As Batheja notes, the spending cap has often been redundant, historically: the Texas Constitution’s pre-existing pay-as-you-go provision means that the Lege doesn’t necessarily have enough money to write a budget that would bump up against the cap, which is set by the Legislative Budget Board based on projections about population growth, incomes, and inflation. Sometimes, however, the state coffers are flush; in those cases, the purpose of the spending cap is to keep the government from going on a spending spree.
The fact that we have such a provision in the Texas constitution is a measure of the state’s longstanding commitment to fiscal discipline.
What I want to know is this: where is that “Tea Party Advisory Council” to Lt. Gov. Patrick? Why are they silent? Could it be that they are populists too? Hmm.
Thank goodness we have a conservative Speaker of the House, Joe Straus:
“For 36 years our state spending cap has helped enforce fiscal discipline, and we should be very cautious about any attempt to weaken it,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said in a statement.
Fiscal conservatives need to stand against these types of flagrant attempts to bankrupt the state.