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Guest Column: We Don't Need the Rainy Day Money Yet

It's proper to use the state's Rainy Day Fund for a $2 billion water plan, but it isn't necessary until 2015, and using it now would force lawmakers to bust the constitutional cap on budget growth.

By Charles Perry
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Texans are asking the wrong question when it comes to financing the state water plan. It's not “if,” but “when and by what means?” The passage of House Bill 4 solidified the Legislature's promise to make the implementation of water infrastructure a priority this session. This legislation does just that by establishing the framework to implement and administer House Bill 11's one-time $2 billion appropriation for funding specific water projects throughout the state.

Now, to be clear, this is not a debate on having a water plan. It’s a discussion on the best way to fund our water needs while protecting the state's financial stability.

The need for the actual funding is estimated to be more than a year away since so many pieces of HB 4 have to be put in place before a dime can be spent. So what does all this mean? The House budget is within $680 million of the constitutional spending cap, with several initiatives requiring budget dollars waiting to come to fruition. The estimated $2 billion to be transferred from the Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as Rainy Day Fund, would force a vote on busting that spending cap, which requires simple majority vote in the House. Since the need for actual funding is be more than a year away, this does not make sense.

The Legislature should follow the constitutional rules that keep state government living within its means. Overriding or intentionally disregarding the spending cap, which enforces responsible fiscal stewardship of taxpayer dollars, would set a dangerous precedent. It would also send a message that the rules only apply when they are convenient.

The prudent course would be to defer the actual funding of the water plan until all governance and oversight processes of HB 4 have been developed, ensuring that the dollars to be spent will be properly accounted for. The transfer of money from the RDF for the sake of political posturing — "doing something for the sake of doing something" — has to be set aside in the name of common sense. Caution needs to be exercised before the actual dollars are released.

If we wait until 2015 to fund the water plan, the next Legislature can appropriate the necessary $2 billion, either from the RDF or some other funding option that may become available. For example, there might be general revenue in excess of the budget revenue estimate used to write the 2014-15 budget. Setting political posturing aside and using common sense in this situation could yield options that may become available with time, and allows the Legislature to keep the rules in place that keep Texas among the top economic performing states in the union.

I think Texans would agree — let the need drive the timing.

Republican Charles Perry of Lubbock represents House District 83.

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