Texas lawmakers have six weeks left in the regular session, and their struggle with the state's tight 2012-13 budget is expected to take up much of that time. It could even push them into a special session this summer if they can't reconcile differences between the House and Senate over these final weeks.
It's a hard job, and perhaps the best way to show you that is to hand you some of the numbers — the programs that might be cut, the taxes that might be raised — and let you make some choices as to how the $27 billion budget shortfall should be closed with our special interactive app.
This idea wasn't entirely ours. The New York Times did a great budget app earlier this year to let its readers try to close the hole in the federal budget, and we're walking a trail they blazed. And the Houston Chronicle — our partner in this — prompted this effort in a conversation between their chief, Jeff Cohen, and ours, Evan Smith.
We've chosen from a list of cuts proposed in the Texas Senate and House budgets, and combined them with taxes, cost savings, accounting tricks and fees that have been suggested or formally proposed by one set of legislators or another. The sources for our numbers and the descriptions of the cuts are varied, but include the House budget and the summary prepared for it by the Legislative Budget Board, the Senate's proposed budget and the LBB summary, the LBB's Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report, and individual pieces of legislation and the fiscal notes — the cost estimates — attached to them. As an example, Senate Bill 1004 would tax sodas at the rate of a penny per ounce, and the $1.1 billion that would produce is in the fiscal note attached to the bill. In addition, the comptroller of public accounts provided some of the information, such as the estimate on an increased sales tax, and that agency's Tax Exemptions and Tax Incidence 2011 report was also the source of some numbers.
Once you've glanced through our list of budget options, pick the options you think would be the most appropriate way to close the budget shortfall. You can share your choices with your friends on Facebook and Twitter to start an informed conversation about the hard choices our government faces. And you can connect your submission with your lawmakers so that, after we've collected enough data, we can show you how each district feels about the budget; and connect your submission with your Facebook account so your lawmakers can see that your opinions are held by a real constituent, not just by one person submitting the same opinion over and over. We'll also show you what was most popular — and what was least popular — so you can see how your answers match up with everyone else's.
If you'd rather remain anonymous, you don't have to share your choices, or have them attached to your name.
We'll update the application if new choices (or new numbers) become available.