How bad is the budget crisis in Texas? Ask the Republicans who run the state, and they’ll tell you it’s in the eye of the beholder.
The way they see it, the $8 billion drop in state revenue can be offset with some belt-tightening. The $7 billion loss in federal stimulus funding? Well, that was expected. And as for the roughly $12 billion more that state agencies say they need to avoid cutting services — Republicans say they just won’t get it.
Voila, the $27 billion shortfall is gone.
“There’s no shortage of commentators saying that we’re on the verge of budgetary Armageddon,” Republican Gov. Rick Perry recently told reporters. “The fact of the matter is that’s just not true.”
Texas is not alone in facing tough choices. Illinois raised its state income tax by 66 percent, and in California and Georgia, governors and legislators have considered raising them by as much as 75 percent. Texas lawmakers have promised not to raise taxes and are cutting deep into state services, including education and health care.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate and decides which legislation gets voted on, spent a lunch with the Capitol press corps trying to convince them they’ve got the story wrong.
“There is not a $27 billion deficit, and I don’t think there is even a $15 billion deficit,” Dewhurst said.
Rick Perry just spent the last year and a half assuring us that Texas was in super-duper shape. He’s not going to suddenly turn around and start saying “well, actually, we’ve got this ginormous budget deficit that I’m largely responsible for and that I’ve refused to talk about”. His goal here is simply to get the newsies to stop using the “d” word and to make it seem like this is just another session and just another budget, with nothing unusual – like, say, massive cuts to public education – about to happen. What else is he going to say?
By the way, if you accept Perry’s logic that we have X amount to spend, so we spend X regardless of what we spent before or what some people say we need, then if in two years’ time we have, say, 25% more than X to spend, we ought to spend exactly that much, too. I’ll bet you $27 billion that regardless of what happens this session, that will not be the approach Perry takes in 2013.