Ihad the opportunity to attend a County Judges and Commissioners conference in Waco last week. It is an annual conference sponsored by the Te xas Agri-Life E xtension Ser v ice. The news from a Central Texas state representative that spoke to us was not very good. Part of t his annual conference includes legislative updates during the legislative session year s . T he repor t was t hat the latest estimates on the shortfall in the st ate budget f or the next biennium is up to 25 billion. It is going to be a very tough session.
St ate le gislators h ave a lready ind ic ated that t hey are going to cut their per diem by 10 percent. This will not even make a dent in the expec ted d efic it. The s tate legi slator t hat spoke to us said that even if three or four state departments were totally cut out of the next budget it wou ld amount to le ss than four hundred million. So where will the cuts o ccu r?
The state representative told us that the state is currently in a st r uct ura l de ficit. He st ated th at it takes somewhere around 80 bil lion to r un the m inimum state ov erhead, and that they are only pre dicting 71 bil lion in revenue. Doe s not sound very good. There will be a number of h i ts t hat t he st at e budget will take that will have to be made up some where.
Educati on is one of the major costs the state faces. There are many school districts that are already maxed out on their tax rate, and others that are considered rich districts will try to avoid raisin g their tax r at es because the extra money will go to the poorer dist r ict s. T he Robin Hood Plan that we currently fund schools with is not going to help t his biennium.
MHMR is another area t hat could be subject to cuts. County jails already serve as one of t he major holding areas for the mentally ill. Inmate numbers will most likely increase and this of cou r se will cos t county tax doll ars. Not to mention th at cou nt y ja i ls are not appropriate facil it ies for t he mental ly i ll. Another problem for the legisl ature is t hat their “no ne w t a xe s” c a mp a ign pr o mis e has t hem backed into a corner.
Other areas of potential state revenue such as legalized gambling have failed in the past and will most likely fail again . Wit h no new re venue a nd increasing costs to meet the needs of the growth of Texas creates a real dilemma for our st ate le ader s.
The good news is that we have a constitutional mandate that the State of Texas shall have a ba lanc ed b ud get. So, th e st ate budget for the next biennium will be balanced. The bad news is that it will probably be balanced on the back of local government. Thi s makes it even more i mperative that we mak e sur e our re pre sent at i ves in Austin know we are w atching.
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