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Budget Chiefs Accuse Wall Street Journal of "Fuzzy" Math

The Legislature's top budget writers have penned a letter to The Wall Street Journal questioning the figures in a recent editorial that urged Gov. Rick Perry to veto the state budget.

State Rep. Jim Pitts and state Sen. Tommy Williams.

The Texas Legislature’s top budget writers are hitting back against a Wall Street Journal editorial urging Gov. Rick Perry to veto the budget deal lawmakers approved in this year’s legislative session.

“Obviously I’m upset, and I’m sure you can hear it in my voice,” Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, told colleagues at a committee hearing Wednesday.

In a recent editorial titled “Texas Goes Sacramento,” the Journal accused the Texas Legislature of going on “its biggest spending spree in memory.”

Williams said he and House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, sent a letter to the Journal disputing the facts behind the paper’s editorial. The Journal is expected to publish the letter in the coming days, according to Williams’ spokesman, Gary Scharrer.

The editorial claimed lawmakers increased spending 26 percent from the previous session, citing figures from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential conservative group. Lawmakers have described TPPF’s figures as misleading and manipulative.

“I’ve got a bellyful of people that are using their organization to criticize the work that we do here so they can raise money to pay their own salaries,” Williams said, referring to TPPF.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board, lawmakers approved a tw0-year budget that increases total spending by $7 billion, or 3.7 percent. State spending would increase $7.2 billion, or 8.3 percent.

In the last days of this year’s regular legislative session, TPPF distributed a chart that showed state spending increasing by $22 billion, or 26 percent. The group’s numbers were higher, in part, because it counted spending that lawmakers approved in this year's session that increased the size of the current budget. Those expenditures included plugging a $4.5 billion Medicaid IOU and undoing accounting gimmicks that lawmakers approved in 2011 to avoid raising taxes or further reducing spending.

At the time, House budget leaders responded by distributing their own chart showing the state budget, after factoring for population growth and inflation, growing less than 1 percent per year between 2010 and 2015.

“We stand by our numbers, and are happy to explain them in-depth to anyone who wishes,” TPPF spokesman Joshua Treviño said Wednesday.

Williams said the group's calculations ignore widely accepted budgeting practices.

“This is a responsible, reasonable and conservative approach,” Williams and Pitts wrote in their letter to the Journal. “The only way to spin it otherwise requires fuzzy math. Most Texans prefer honest numbers and plain truth.”

Earlier this week, Perry, a long-standing TPPF supporter and ally, also questioned the figures cited by the Journal.

“Frankly, I don’t understand their math,” Perry said. 

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