Everybody knows about the Rainy Day fund. What few folks realize is that the state actually has a whole bunch of rainy day funds–little cubbyholes where the state squirrels away money for that very rainy day when the comptroller must certify the budget. Here is the list of de facto rainy day funds identified by the Legislative Budget Board (“General Revenue Dedicated Account Balances Available for Certificiation,” amounts in millions) : System Benefit Fund: $670.7 (now estimated to be close to $900 by Silvester Turner’s office). Emissions Reduction Plan: $515.3 Designated Trauma Facility and EMS: $331.3 (Remember how this was designed by Shapiro and Delisi to help fund trauma centers?) Petroleum Storage Tank Remediation: $186.6 Fugitive Apprehension: $157.8 9-1-1 Service Fees: $151.6 Texas Department of Insurance Operating Fees $98.8 Solid Waste Disposal Fees: $97.2 Operators and Chauffers License Fees: $91.2 Clean Air: $67.2 Subsequent Injury: $60.4 Hazardous and Solid Waste Remediation Fees: $47.6 Volunteer Fire Department Assistance: $45.9 Texas Recreation and Parks: $42.3 Texas Tech University: $32.8 Unemployment Compensation Special A: $32.0 Prairie A&M University: $31.9 Child Abuise Neglect and Prevention Trust: $31.0 Sexual Assault Program: $30.7 Waste Management: $30.5 Texas A&M University Current: $30.4 Game, Fish, and Water Safety: $29.2 Employment and Training Investment: $29.0 Coastal Protection: $27.3 Department of Public Safety Federal: $26.1 All Other GR Dedicated Certification Accounts: $770.7 Including the current estimated amount in the System Benefit Fund, the “Total Estimated GR-Dedicated Certification Balance” is appromately $4B. Great news, right? Wrong. By statute, this money cannot be used for anything other than certification of the budget. Not a dime of it can be spent. This is the opposite of transparency. The money did not come from an immaculate conception. It came from assessments paid by real people and real businesses. It is supposed to be used for a specific purpose, and yet it does nothing but linger in an account. If we are going to levy assessments, why not be up front about it? These are taxes, and not just taxes, but the worst kind of taxes there are–taxes that lie about their purpose. They pay for nothing. This is why Sylvester Turner and other Democrats got so angry during Thursday’s Appropriations committee meeting. The System Benefit Fund is supposed to be used by the Public Utility Commission to help low-income and elderly Texans pay their utility bills during the summer months. Instead, the PUC returned $40 million to the state, and another $10 million as part of the 2.5% budget cut, and sliced off another $30 million from the fund. That was the action that really got Turner boiling. Since GR-dedicated funds were first used to certify the budget in the 1994-95 session, their share of all GR expenditures has risen from 2.4% to the current 4.5%, and it will only increase and worsen over time.
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