Opening bids on the next deficit

Do I hear $7 billion? Ten billion? How about $15 billion?

Early projections indicate that when the Legislature convenes in 2013 it could face another revenue shortfall. Not as severe as this year’s $27-billion gap, but still problematic.

“I think we’re going to have a $10- to $15-billion budget deficit next session,” Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said.

For Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the gap in the 2013 session could be at least $7.1 billion.

“This is not responsible governance,” Davis told the Austin-American Statesman.

Like most Republicans in the Legislature, Patrick was against tapping into the Rainy Day Fund. But Davis and all Democrats – as well as a few influential Republicans such as Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Steve Ogden of Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – argued that because of the severity of this year’s fiscal crisis, it would be wise to tap into the fund to balance the state budget.

The debate over how much in the hole the Legislature will be in the next session is expected to intensify during the interim, especially when key legislative panels such as the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee host a series of public hearings.

Of course, as we know, the remaining balance in the Rainy Day Fund is already accounted for. That means there will be much less wiggle room in 2013, and it means that either we face up to and finally deal with the underlying structural problems, which begins with the shortfall caused by the business margins tax and its inability to pay for the property tax cuts of 2006, or we slash and burn again. Which is why the mantra for every Democratic candidate in 2012 and 2014 needs to be “The Republicans said they could fix the budget through cuts alone. They were wrong.” We can’t fix the problem until we fix the Legislature.

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