Balancing the budget on the backs of charities

Just another “accounting trick” from our Republican legislature.

Each year, more than 100 organizations — including the University of Texas, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Special Olympics and the Girl Scouts — earn a collective $2.5 million from specialty plates voluntarily purchased by drivers. The $30 plates earn $22 for nonprofits or state agencies, $7.50 goes to the state highway fund, and 50 cents goes to the county in which the vehicle is registered.

Now that money is at risk. In the main budget bill legislators passed last month, officials decided to defer payment on half the money organizations receive through the plates for the next two years. Nonprofits would get $11 per sale. The rest of their money could not be accessed until September 2013 .

The idea is to, in effect, turn that revenue into state income, which helps balance the budget, said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas , which has taken the lead on fighting the proposal and received $330,000 from the fund in 2010.

Nonprofits say the deferred payments will hurt them because they use that money to operate programs and leverage other sources of income, such as federal grants. They also worry that the state could come back in two years and pass another bill directing that money somewhere else.

“Nobody’s taking much comfort in that we’re supposed to get that money in two years,” Stallings said. “The longer it sits there, the more attractive it becomes for the state to want to keep it for some other purpose.”

This is not a new development, by the way. Rep. Geanie Morrison has filed an amendment that would prevent this from happening, so it’s not set in stone yet. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this kind of budget prestidigitation – just ask Rep. Sylvester Turner about the System Benefit Fund, and watch the smoke come out of his ears. Still, this is the sort of thing you should expect when the very idea of raising revenue is anathema. My advice would be to put off getting that “Animal Friendly” license plate till 2013, when the money you spend on it will again go to the cause behind it. We hope, anyway.

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3 Responses to Balancing the budget on the backs of charities

  1. Chuck Ivy says:

    Funny, just this week I emailed Gary Gibbs, executive director of the Texas Commission on the Arts asking if buying a State of the Arts license plate would still help them, seeing as their budget for the next two years was slashed 50% recently. His response matches your article. “Thank you for your inquiry. TCA does benefit from the sale of the State of the Arts license plate. The issue before the legislature now in the special session is whether to allow TCA and other specialty plate beneficiaries to spend all of the proceeds derived from the sales or only 50% of those proceeds.” I’d really like to help support them, but I’m less inclined to get the plate if they’re not going to receive all the money that the DMV says I’d be giving them.

  2. Ross says:

    it’s a lot more effective to just send money to the causes you want to support, rather than using the State as a go between.

  3. Pingback: Thanks for helping us balance the budget, fishermen – Off the Kuff

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