Tribpedia: Budget

The Texas Constitution requires the Legislature to balance its budget every year without borrowing against future receipts. That bars the government from deficit spending and forces lawmakers, who meet for 20 weeks every two years, to constantly balance demands for programs and services against voters' desire to limit taxes, fees and other costs of government.

The Legislative Budget Board — a legislative agency — has the best repository of information about the details of the budget. And they publish Fiscal Size-Up — a detailed but understandable breakdown of the state budget and fiscal situation.

The appropriations bill details the state's spending plans. The details on revenue come from the Comptroller of Public Accounts, who tells lawmakers through a Biennial Revenue Estimate how much money will be available for spending, and who ends the adoption of a budget by certifying that its spending fits within the available revenue.

Budget writers often think of the appropriations bill in two parts: General Revenue, or GR, which refers to state funds that aren't dedicated by law for particular spending; and federal funds, which is money from the federal government, usually drawn into the budget in proportion to what the state is spending on a particular program.

The 2010-2011 budget for the state government totals $182.3 billion. Public and higher education, a $75.4 billion, and health and human services, at $59.6 billion, make up nearly three-fourths of state spending. Criminal justice and public safety spending totals $10.6 billion; transportation accounts for another $17.1 billion.

Those are "all funds" numbers, meaning they include GR and federal money. GR accounts for $87.1 billion in the 2010-11 budget, including $51.5 billion for public and higher education, and $25.3 billion for health and human services. Together, those two areas account for 88.3 percent of GR spending.

The state's biggest single source of income is the sales tax, projected to bring in $41.9 billion in this two-year budget cycle. Other taxes — on everything from motor fuel to corporations — bring expected GR to $74.8 billion over the next two years. Regular legislative sessions start eight months before the end of a two-year budget, and lawmakers often start with supplemental appropriations bills to add spending where they were short and, less often, to make cuts in places where spending was slower than expected.

It can be confusing to listen to a lawmaker talking about cutting spending (meaning GR spending) while the overall budget is increasing because of higher federal spending. The current budget is an example; largely because they had federal stimulus money available, lawmakers were able to lower GR spending while increasing the overall size of the budget. The parsing is in many ways political: State lawmakers are politically liable for what they do with state taxes and spending, but aren't as directly responsible for what happens on the federally funded part of the state budget.