What you should know about the 900 lb. gorillas in the Texas Legislature

Back to the People’s business, what you should know about the 900 lb. gorillas in the Texas Legislature. Want to guess what they?

Roads? Nope, not even close.

Texas Department of Public Safety? You’re getting colder.

Gorilla ‘A’

“The single biggest program in the state’s overall budget is Medicaid—a health insurance program for those with low incomes. Medicaid is a shared program between the state and the federal government. While the federal government covers more than half the program’s costs, that federal money comes with strings attached. The program’s general parameters are dictated by federal law, while other parts are constrained by court orders and settlements. Over the past several decades Medicaid spending has grown by nearly 12 percent annually—driven not so much by the decisions of Texas lawmakers, but by federal mandates. Now with the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) in law, states have even LESS Medicaid budget flexibility. So even if Medicaid is not a lawmaker’s priority, their hands are largely tied by Washington, as Medicaid takes precedence over most other items in the Texas budget. For example, lawmakers attempted to make deep cuts in Medicaid in 2011, but most ultimately were precluded by federal law, and the first order of business for the 2013 Legislature was to make the program whole, or face federal sanctions. In the 2014-15 Budget the state will put up $22.8 billion from general revenues for Medicaid (and draw $34.6 billion in federal funds).”

Gorilla ‘B’

“Public education is another area of the budget influenced by factors beyond lawmakers’ control. The Texas constitution requires that the legislature provide an “efficient system of public free schools”—language that plaintiffs contend requires not just equitable funding across districts but also the level of state appropriations. Lawmakers can rewrite those formulas to spend less, as they did in 2011, but those budget cuts immediately resulted in school districts filing suit against the state. An Austin trial court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and while the case is currently under further review, a final decision could place additional demands on state appropriations, limiting lawmakers’ budget flexibility even more. Lawmakers appropriated $40 billion in general revenue affected funds in 2014-15 for public
schools.”

The budget “gorillas” briefly described above represent more than 80% of our Texas state budget.

Monday evening, September 22, 2014, we’ll be meeting at Utley Middle School to hear about the Blackland Connector toll road project.

You, the Texas taxpayer, oppose increasing the gasoline tax to fund public highways, but you seem to have no complaints about the two 900 lb. ‘gorillas’. You stridently oppose toll roads, but you ignore the weightier matters of state spending.

Apparently, my fellow Texans expect our state legislature to stop construction of toll roads while they also oppose the means to funding freeways. Well, we call them ‘freeways’ because there are no tolls, but nothing is free. Nothing. Highways cost money. Lots of money, but nothing compared to those two budget ‘gorillas’.

Disclaimer: I am not an advocate for toll roads. I, too, prefer freeways.

Due to the simple, inescapable facts (1) the majority of our state spending on Health and Human Resources (Medicaid) is driven by federal mandates AND (2) school demographics drive spending for public education, construction of public freeways happens when there are available public funds. However, popular opposition to increasing gas tax compounded by the obvious urgent need for more high-speed highways, leads to opportunities for private toll road companies. Perhaps a state income tax? There are liberal forces at work in Austin to institute a state income tax.

Here’s the bottom line: Construction of new public freeways isn’t so much hampered by a lack of state funds, but priorities assigned those funds. My opinion: we spend far too much on public education, expense we can control, and far too little on vital state infrastructure.

“Government spending is taxation. When you look at this, I’ve never heard of a poor person spending himself into prosperity; let alone I’ve never heard of a poor person taxing himself into prosperity.” – Arthur Laffer, economist and creator of the famous ‘Laffer Curve’.

John White

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