What was true at the beginning of the regular legislative session is still true as the special session winds down: The budget is still broken.
Instead of revamping the business tax structure or taking aim at tax exemptions, lawmakers cut billions of dollars in spending and cobbled together accounting maneuvers and spending delays to meet a massive shortfall and tide them over until 2013. They took a limited amount of money from the state’s rainy day fund, but leaders expect to dip into it again in a big way when they return in regular session in 2013.
Legislators also pushed back a looming gap in transportation funding by allowing issuance of the last of voter-approved bonds. They made some cost-saving changes in Medicaid, but will need federal approval to realize more savings.
On school finance, they are working in a special session to pass a bill to allow $4 billion less through the next two years than required under current funding formulas.
“The governor and the tea party deserve the credit or the blame, depending on one’s point of view,” for the lack of reform, said Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, a former Ways and Means chairman. “I believe the majority of Texans know we have a very serious tax code problem, and they want and expect us to address it.”
We started with a structural deficit, and we’re finishing with a structural deficit. Nearly $5 billion of the Rainy Day fund will be needed by the next legislature just to cover the hot check written for Medicaid. The Republicans made billions in devastating cuts to vital services, especially public education, but did nothing to solve the underlying problems. The Democrats need to pound that theme every day between now and November of 2012. Nothing will change until the Legislature changes.