Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. When I blogged about the TTRC's business tax proposal, I noted this quote:
Byron Schlomach of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates for smaller government and lower taxes, said he hopes the commission keys in on consumption taxes, such as the sales tax and the roughly $3.5 billion in surplus money now sitting in state coffers, to replace property taxes.
"We have to ultimately judge this policy by what it's long-term effects are likely to be," Schlomach said. "The fact is that a business tax taxes innovation, work effort, investment and job creation."
Patrick said there was plenty of money available now to replace reduced school property taxes.
"We're awash with money in Austin, but there's tremendous waste in our education budget," he said.
Three words: Rainy Day Fund. I have this bad feeling that the solution to the cut property taxes/leave bidness alone/make school finance comply with the court's ruling conundrum is going to be a raid on the Rainy Day Fund. Why not, if it's currently loaded? It's an easy fix, no hard choices need to be made, and the loudest voice against it will be none other than Carole Keeton Strayhorn, whom Perry can then paint as a tax-raiser-wannabee.
Of course, this is a one-shot fix, and it'll put us right back in the hole afterwards. But so what? There's an election to be won. Who cares about the future and the stability of the tax system?
I could be wrong, of course - among other things, I can't find a link that's got the current Rainy Day Fund balance in it, so who knows if this is accurate - but these are the clues, and this is what I make of them. When Perry speaks, we'll know for sure. Stay tuned and see if I'm right.
UPDATE: Ah, here's where that 3.5 billion figure comes from:
Months before a raucous showdown over education funding, Texas lawmakers haven't been officially notified about a massive budget surplus — at least $3 billion — sitting in the state treasury, and it's quickly becoming a political football.
The estimated surplus means that Texas has that much more money than the Legislature budgeted in the current two-year spending period. Lawmakers going into a spring special session on school financing know they'll have at least $3 billion more, but they don't know how much more money there is.
A $3 billion surplus would be the largest the state has seen in several years. In contrast, lawmakers wrote the 2004-05 budget in the face of a $10 billion revenue shortfall.
Some of the money, $1.2 billion, is leftover tax revenue from the last budget cycle and $1.9 billion was stashed away by lawmakers to use in the upcoming school funding debate. Current projections indicate that the surplus will grow even larger over the biennium, as the result of larger-than-expected tax revenue from consumer spending and higher oil and gas prices.
"The glitch is, there hasn't been a revised revenue estimate released yet. They ususally do it in December to say if what they said a year ago is still true or not," said Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. "Things change in an economic forecast based on consumer spending and oil and gas prices."
The state also is sitting on $473 million in savings from vetoed legislation in the current budget that can be spent anytime by the budget board.