Comptroller: Texas Budget Surplus Bigger Than Expected

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 7, 2013.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 7, 2013.

The oil drilling boom’s impact on Texas coffers continues to outpace officials’ expectations, according to a report released by the Texas comptroller’s office on Thursday.

Comptroller Susan Combs reported that Texas ended the 2012-13 biennium with a $2.6 billion surplus, more than double the $964 million surplus her office projected over the summer. The report also predicts that Texas taxes paid by energy development firms will be at least $2 billion more than earlier projections, resulting in $8 billion in the state’s piggy bank by 2015.

The revisions means that the Rainy Day Fund could be more flush than expected for the 2015 legislative session, even after lawmakers backed measures asking voters to approve tapping the fund's revenue stream for water and road projects.

Last month, Texas voters approved transferring $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to a state water infrastructure bank. Earlier this year, state lawmakers also passed a measure that would require dedicating half of the future tax revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the state highway fund. If voters approve a related constitutional amendment in November, the highway fund will receive an extra $1.38 billion in 2015, and the Rainy Day Fund will receive the same amount, according to Combs’ latest estimates.

Under that scenario, the Rainy Day Fund will have a balance of $8.1 billion by the fall of 2015.

Dale Craymer, president of the business-backed Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said Combs’ projections are still “very conservative” considering the economic activity coming from the oil and gas industry in South and West Texas in recent months.

“Expectations are that we’ll probably be able to do better than these numbers,” Craymer said. 

While oil and gas activity has had a significant impact on state revenue, the broader state economy is also doing very well, Combs reported.

“Texas has recovered 100 percent of the jobs lost during the recession and added 597,000 beyond the previous peak in August 2008,” Combs wrote. “The economic forecast underlying this revenue estimate projects Texas will continue adding jobs in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, although not at the pace of 2011, 2012 or 2013.”

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