Another regular session is approaching, and most people involved in writing the state budget have no idea about the size of the shortfall. Yet, orders have gone out from Perry, Dewhurst, and Straus for state agencies to cut their budgets by 10%, with another 15% yet to come. All this is occurring without anyone knowing how deep the hole is. At the same time, we are learning that sales tax collections are way up. Just what is the fiscal condition of the state? The previous revenue estimate by Comptroller Combs proved to be too optimistic. The 2003 revenue estimate by Comptroller Strayhorn proved to be too pessimistic. She said lawmakers were facing a $9.9 billion shortfall. This estimate sent the Legislature into a frenzy of budget cutting. In fact, we ended the biennium with a substantial surplus. (Many believe that Strayhorn undercooked the revenue estimate to make Perry look bad.) The point is this: The best-case scenario for writing the 2011-2012 budget, under current practices, is that the work will be completed in June 2011. That is five months into the biennium, nineteen to go. Wouldn’t it make more sense to write the budget in the second year of the biennium, when we have a lot more information about how the economy is faring? The current way that we write our budgets lends itself to panicked budget-cutting any time that there is a downturn. Suspicious minds might even conclude that this is deliberate, because it plays to the ideology of the leadership. A thirty-day budget session in June 2012, three months before the end of the biennium, would allow budget writers to prepare a budget based on the latest economic information. Instead, we are writing budgets while we are still in the dark about economic trends. We need a constitutional amendment authorizing a thirty- (or sixty-) day budget sessions in the summer of even-numbered years.
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