Let's fund the first things first
If a newly independent child asked his Mom or Dad for advice about how to handle his money, many parents might urge him to pay his core expenses first. Pay your rent and utility bills first, many parents would suggest, and then decide about how to spend (or save) the rest of your money.
It’s advice that state and county officials might do well to consider now that we are in budget season. Few Republicans would agree that the Texas state budget is too small, yet we hear calls for new taxes, fees, or use of Rainy Day Funds for transportation and water projects. The problem may not be that the budget is too small; the problem may be that our spending doesn’t line up with government’s core functions.
In Texas, our roads are where we live. The ability to travel on non-tolled roads throughout the state has shaped our collective identity as freedom loving Texans, but it is also key to our continued economic success. Water projects are also fundamental to Texas’ economic growth. Paying for roads and water for the state is like paying rent and utilities for Texas families, and payments for these priorities are the first checks most of us write.
But the budget bill passed this week in the Senate follows a different path. “The bill reflects the priorities of our diverse state by emphasizing increased funding for mental health services, increased funding for public education and increased funding for the Department of Family and Protective Services to protect vulnerable children,” Senator Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said (The Courier, Thursday, March 21, 2013).
It’s likely that Texan voters would almost universally label transportation and water as responsibilities of the state that should be funded by our existing taxes. While it funds other programs supported by many Texans, the budget passed last week does not provide sufficiently for our Texas roads or water given our rapidly expanding population.
Senator Williams, from his vantage point as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has the standing to construct a final budget that, without new taxes, provides first for the government functions with universal support. Existing taxes cannot fund everything and voters expect their current taxes to cover the essential functions of government first. When existing tax revenue runs out for budget items that are seen as important by fewer voters, legislators should ask their constituents if they agree to increased taxes or fees for these areas.
In The Woodlands, we have a strong state Senator who can solve this problem. Let’s fund the first things first.