Lawmakers and lobbyists continue to spar over the accuracy of a recent Legislative Budget Board analysis of the effects House Bill 1 would have on jobs in the state of Texas. Basically, they don't agree on the number of jobs that may be lost or the method of comparison used by LBB.
It's gone from a state agency to a state representative to two top state leaders to letters from business groups and think tanks. The argument will likely continue on the House floor tomorrow and Friday, as lawmakers consider a solution to the current budget deficit and then a spending blueprint for the next two years.
The skirmish started last Thursday, when State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, highlighted the LBB study showing the state could lose 231,000 jobs in 2012 and 335,000 jobs in 2013 if it fails to maintain current spending levels. The House Appropriations Committee version of HB 1, scheduled for a vote by the full House this week, proposes about $23 billion in cuts.
"The voters did not elect us to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. We have to be smarter than this," Villarreal said in his press release.
House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst responded that afternoon, saying the report disregards the negative effects of raising taxes — the most obvious alternative to budget cuts.
"The LBB report clearly shows that job creation is tied to the size of the economy, not the budget. What it does not calculate, however, are the dramatic job losses Texas would suffer if the Legislature raised taxes just as our economy is starting to rebound. You cannot expect to grow the economy and create jobs by growing bigger government," Dewhurst said.
Villarreal replied by asking Straus to direct the LBB to prepare a new impact statement analyzing the effect on jobs for several alternatives: if lawmakers enhance revenue, spend some of the remaining Rainy Day funds, and close loopholes.
This week, Dale Craymer, the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, sided with Straus and Dewhurst, saying the LBB analysis didn't compare the proposed budget with an alternative, but instead compared it to the current budget. It put a price on budget cuts, Craymer said in a letter to House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, but didn't estimate how many jobs it might cost to raise taxes enough to bring the proposed budget in line with the current one. He said the LBB study didn't offer a fair comparison because Texas "does not have the revenue to continue to spend at current levels."
This afternoon, the Center for Public Policy Priorities jumped in with a letter upholding the LBB study. "In reality, the consequences would not come from the recession, but from how the Legislature responded to the recession," wrote CPPP chief F. Scott McCown.
As the House prepares to debate three major budget bills on Thursday and Friday, it's likely this study will be brought up by members of both parties.