Expected surplus won't lessen 2013 budget fight

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 1, 2013 at 11:11 am •  Published: January 1, 2013
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Once those bills are paid up, lawmakers can begin writing the budget for the next two years.

But no one is betting on a spending spree.

Exactly how much money lawmakers will have at their disposal won't be known until Monday, when Comptroller Susan Combs releases a two-year revenue estimate. Republicans — who don't have the House supermajority they enjoyed in 2011, but will still be calling the shots — already want new restraints on how much lawmakers can spend.

Gov. Rick Perry and other top GOP leaders want to limit spending increases to a formula of population growth plus inflation. That would be less than the $77.9 billion cap set by the Legislative Budget Board, which is a 10 percent increase over current levels.

Democrats and others view such self-imposed restrictions as unnecessary. The Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive-leaning think tank in Austin, said the state has enough money on the table now to undo the steep cuts in 2011 and retain current services if the lawmakers were willing to exhaust the Rainy Day Fund that now has a balance of about $8.1 billion.

But there is little appetite to do so.

"That's a tough, tough challenge for the makeup of the new legislature," said Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior budget analyst for the CPPP. "And it's also not letting us undo all the other smoke and mirrors the legislative leadership has said is a priority."

Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who has pledged to pump money back into schools this session, is signaling more optimism than two years ago.

"I don't want to be misleading and say 'Oh we're back to complete blue skies,'" Straus said. "But certainly our economy has recovered nicely. But you need to keep it in perspective that we were in a serious hole."

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