With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?
Since the 2012 election, there has been quite a lot of talk about Harris County moving from Republican to Democrat. But anyone who is paying attention to this legislative session will see that the Republican legislators from Harris County are not particularly conservative on budgetary matters anyway. There has been a 26% increase in this budget over the previous budget. Rather than banking additional tax revenue this legislature has decided to spend more and then take $4 billion out of the rainy day fund.
With the passage of a budget that allowed for a raid on the ‘rainy day fund,’ for an encore Harris County-based Representatives Dan Huberty, Patricia Harless, and Debbie Riddle joined with Democrats to support HB 16 and HJR 2, thus allowing for the rainy day fund to be raided with impunity. The Senate passed a bill that included a baseline under which the rainy day fund would not drop—a poor consolation for raiding the fund in the first place but a consolation nonetheless. When that bill came before the House the baseline was removed. Now, thanks to a coalition of irresponsible spenders, the rainy day fund can be raided with impunity.
The irresponsible budgeting of the Texas legislature during this legislative session has even garnered national attention with the Wall Street Journal comparing Austin to Sacramento. Texas is experiencing a boom—thanks to oil—in the same way California had experienced a boom—thanks to real estate—when it had decided to increase spending in the face of a positive financial outlook. Texas legislatures have failed to learn from California in recognizing that good times come to an end and a budgetary surplus can come in handy down the road. When one asks the government “How much can you spend?” the government usually replies, “How much do you have?” and then it takes some more.
Even a casual observer of politics and economics knows that saving money in good times is generally a good idea and that spending like the good times will go on forever will wreak havoc on a budget in the long run. The Texas legislature would do well to make two adjustments to the budgetary process in order to prevent these mistakes. First, we need a zero-based budgeting approach for all state agencies. Zero-based budgeting would allow legislators to assess how much money is really needed by an agency and not just how much money an agency usually gets. Second, discretionary spending should be handled after mandated spending and matters such as transportation and water are dealt with. Right now legislators are trying to say they need to raid the rainy day fund for roads and water. And they are right, we need to fund road and water projects. But these projects should have been dealt with first, not last, and discretionary spending measures should have been moved to the back of the line. By moving the most important matters to the back of the line legislators manipulated the situation to make it appear as though there is more of a scarcity of resources than there actually is. While money is the most important thing in making budget decisions, timing comes a close second.
We should all be alarmed by the dangerous and irresponsible budget practices by this legislature. What should be particularly alarming is that the conservatives are not acting like conservatives which means the spending will only increase and raiding the rainy day fund will only continue.