Texas senators scratching for new state revenue canceled a meeting to talk about their options today, but a copy of their list got loose — and it includes $5.5 billion in taxes, fees, asset sales and accounting tricks that could be used to ease their budget problems.
If, that is, the proposed cures are more politically palatable than the budget cuts. The list was obtained by Empower Texans, a group that advocates for fiscal conservatism, and posted on its website.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, has been leading the effort to find $5 billion or more in non-tax revenues and confirmed the list's authenticity. But he says not everything on the list, printed Monday, is still under consideration.
"Nobody's saying 'You can do this, or you should do this,'" he says. "This is just a list of things to consider."
Duncan has a marked-up version he won't share because he says he hasn't put together a Senate consensus. That's why he canceled his subcommittee's meeting today. He had planned to put out his list at the meeting but wants another week or so to talk to senators. Asked if his version differs from the earlier version that got leaked, he says, "It's very safe to say that."
And he says he wasn't the leaker. "I was surprised it was out, but it doesn't matter," he says.
The inventory of ideas, as Duncan calls it, is part of the Senate's attempt to find non-tax revenue to ease coming cuts in the state budget. The House approved a two-year budget on Sunday that totals $164.5 billion — about $23 billion less than the current budget and a drop of about 12.3 percent in spending. The Senate's version hasn't been voted out of the Finance Committee yet. While it's smaller than the current budget, its cuts are not as deep as those in the House edition.
Some of the big items on the Duncan panel's list, many of which are one-time measures:
- $200 million from counting the balances in the Texas Enterprise and Emerging Technology funds against spending to balance the budget.
- $78 million from shortening the time the state holds unclaimed property, allowing those assets — which can still be claimed by Texans — to be counted against the budget.
- $216 million from moving up the date when businesses turn over unclaimed property to the state.
- $111 million from tying the back-to-school sales tax holiday to economic conditions and canceling it in hard times.
- $267 million from speeding up collection of motor fuel and diesel taxes.
- $66.6 million by accelerating collection of alcohol taxes.
- $47 million from cutting the tax stamp discount for cigarette distributors.
- $200 million from ending the sales tax exemption for Blue Cross on taxable items bought under federal contracts.
- $324.8 million from ending the sales tax exemption for contract computer programming
- $59.6 million for ending the 20 percent sales tax exemption for data processing services.
- $590 million from moving Tobacco Permanent Health Funds set aside in a tobacco lawsuit settlement in the 1990s from a dedicated account into a general revenue account. Another $379 million would come from doing the same thing with the Permanent Public Health Fund.
- $85.3 million by capping the savings retailers get for paying sales taxes on time.
- $115.3 million by collecting a surcharge when Texans buy fuel-inefficient vehicles.
- $102.4 million by assessing satellite TV providers with a subscription video assessment already paid by cable companies.
- $24.3 million from more high-cost gas audits.
- $426 million by suspending the high-cost gas exemption for two years, a measure that would also add $633.6 million to the Rainy Day Fund.
- $111 million by releasing 3,000 prison inmates who are non-violent, eligible for parole and who would be immediately deported.
- $75 million by releasing 1,000 elderly prison inmates under supervision for serious medical conditions.
- $50.5 million from increasing state traffic fines to $45 from $30.
- $300 million from accelerating sales tax collections from monthly payers.
- $128 million by repealing the timely filer discount for fuel taxpayers.
- $94 million by "improving administration" of the Texas Economic Development cap.
- $33.4 million by ending the sales tax exemption on rolling stock and locomotives.
- $888 million to $1.9 billion by spending up collections of quarterly state business franchise taxes.
- $67.7 million from eliminating the state's Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Fund.