Much has been made this year out of House Bill 1, better known as the Texas budget. I applaud the attention this budget has received, because writing the budget is the single most important act of the Texas legislature every two years. I, along with my fellow Republicans, only wish that all Texans would take the time to get this involved in the budget process every biennium.
If every budget received the attention it was due, we could probably avoid much of the pain and strife we suffer from today. Fundamentally, the problem of our budget system exists not in the lean years but in the years of plenty. When the Legislature is flush is when the real problems are created. Government grows with our economy — not because it should, but because it can. The irony is that our economy grows fastest when government stays small.
As hard as it is to make the cuts we are making today, it is virtually impossible to keep waste and inefficiency from creeping in when there is taxpayer money to be spent. In the good years, government programs expand and waste and inefficiency fill in the gaps like water into rock. The problem is that when the economy contracts, the waste and inefficiency have been absorbed, hidden and sheltered within the rock.
That is the problem we are faced with today. We are in the position of squeezing water out of rock, and the process is hard and dirty work.
Democrats will argue that there is no water in the rock. They are wrong. In 1990, the entire budget for the state of Texas was $23.3 billion. For the most recently completed fiscal year, 2010, the state’s total appropriations amounted to $92.7 billion, a growth of almost 300 percent in the budget. The 2012-13 budget proposes to spend $164.5 billion in “all funds.” This represents a 12.3 percent reduction from the current biennium. General revenue appropriations have exceeded the level justified by population growth and inflation in every year since 1992. This year alone, general revenue appropriations are $14.3 billion higher than if a population-plus-inflation limit had been in place since 1990.
To add to the problem, the federal Medicaid program is slowly crowding out funding for every other area of government. During the last decade, the state general revenue match for Medicaid has increased from $10.1 billion in 2002-03 to $18.6 billion in 2010-11. Medicaid is a federal program that Texas has little control over, yet it threatens to take over our state budget. Even without Obamacare, Medicaid is projected to double in size every 10 years. It is not just the elephant in the room; it is the room. Medicaid growth makes every other cut we have to make that much more painful, and without real reform from Washington, D.C., we cannot do anything about it.
All of us, Republicans included, recognize that balancing a budget is more than adding numbers on a page. Republicans absolutely want to see public education fully funded. We want our children to have the best textbooks available. We want the best and brightest teachers for our students. We’ve got a budget to balance, we’ve got limited resources to allocate and we’ve got to make painful decisions that affect the lives of everyday Texans. We know that our decisions have serious consequences and that there is a human face behind each of these difficult decisions. Our wives and husbands are teachers, our children are in public schools and our parents are in nursing homes. We are all experiencing hard times, and we comprehend the serious fiscal situation we are confronting.
So there are two approaches. Democrats would have us ignore the waste and inefficiency that got us here today and simply go out and raise taxes to solve the problem. As Republicans, we feel strongly that before we ask any more of our citizens, before we risk the future growth of our economy, and before we burden our children with taxes and debt, we must do what it takes to squeeze every drop of water from the rock.
State Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, serves on the House Appropriations Committee.