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February 1st, 2003:

Hochberg on the budget

Here, via Greg Wythe, is some more detail about that $10 billion budget deficit and how big cuts will have to be if our elected leaders are serious about no tax increases:

1.) While the Texas budget totals around $113 billion, about $35 billion of that is really pass-through money that comes from the federal government to operate what are essentially federal programs. We can rarely use federal money to reduce state expenditures, and, in fact, usually have to put up some state money to get the federal money. When we talk about being $10 billion short, that is the shortfall in the state portion of the budget.

2.) Actually, it’s not even the entire state portion that we are talking about, because some state funds are “dedicated” to specific purposes. For example, 3/4 of the money the state collects from gasoline taxes can be used ONLY for highways and other transportation. Dedicated monies amount to $16 billion, and are essentially “off book” when it comes to the deficit. We don’t have to spend it, but we can’t use it for any other purpose, nor can we use it to balance the budget.

3.) After taking away the federal and dedicated monies, we end up with about $62 billion as the actual state budget. But of that $62 billion, about $22 billion goes directly to local school districts. We don’t have to send them that money, but chances are pretty good that if we don’t send it, they will raise local property taxes to cover the shortfall we create.

4.) So, assuming we don’t cut school district funds, that leaves us finding $10 billion out of the $40 billion that remain. (That is not to say that school district funds could not be cut – but it’s not exactly living up to our responsibility to get out of this by cutting someone else’s budget.)

This is from a mailing by State Rep. Scott Hochberg (D, Houston). I don’t believe for a second that we’ll be seeing 25% cuts across the board (actually, it’d be more like 20% since $1.8 billion of that must be done before August), so keep your eyes open for all kinds of fuzzy math.

Mississippi’s revenge

It appears that Governor Goodhair misspoke when he said recently that he didn’t want Texas to become “like Mississippi”. According to this article in the Chron, Mississippi does better than Texas in several significant categories:

In what radio commentator Jim Hightower calls “an age-old struggle for last,” Texas might be starting to win.

“It’s actually a very funny set of statistics,” said Eva De Luna Castro, budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin think tank that advocates for the needy.

The data compare Texas and Mississippi on state and local spending combined for the year 2000. Mississippi spent $4,897 per person. Texas spent $4,592.

That might sound like something to brag about if it weren’t for one little matter. The data also show the overall tax bill for Mississippians totaled $2,214 per person per year. Texans paid more — $2,504.

One culprit seems to be the share paid in local property taxes. Texans get hit with a $950 bill. Mississippians pay only $514.

Oh, the indignity. We pay more to get less. And it just gets worse:

Consider a few more categories. One big surprise? Highways. Perhaps it might bolster Perry’s push for more highway spending that Mississippi spent $433 per person on highways in 2000, while Texas spent only $345.

Parks and natural resources? Mississippi’s get $137 per person. Texas’ get $107.

And, when it comes to children, Mississippi is no slacker, either. Ninety percent of children there are covered by either public or private health insurance versus only 79 percent in Texas.

Mississippi spends $3,434 per pupil, versus $3,186 in Texas, where local property taxes foot most of the bill.

Both states rank fairly low in the percentage of their populations over 25 holding a high school diploma, but Mississippi ranks 44th with 80.3 percent while Texas comes in 46th with 79.2 percent.

No doubt that Mississippi is a poor state and Texas is a wealthier one, however, with 19.3 percent living in poverty versus 14.9 percent in Texas.

Average personal income in Texas for 2001 is $28,581 versus $21,750 in Mississippi.

Mississippi spends like a poor state because they are a poor state. Texas spends like a poor state because we’re cheap.

How does Mississippi do it? Well, it must be noted that they do have a little help:

In 2000, they attracted $1,240 per person from the federal government while Texas got only $890.

If only we had a highly-placed elected federal politician to help us out…

OK, cheap shot, and a poor comparison besides: Texas gets a ton of swag from the Feds, we just have a lot more population to spread it over. But still.

Way to go, Guv. Maybe aspiring to be more like Mississippi isn’t so bad after all.

Space shuttle explodes during reentry

The space shuttle Columbia exploded over Central Texas on its way back to its scheduled landing in Florida. Shuttle commander Rick D. Husband, pilot William C. McCool, payload commander Michael P. Anderson, mission specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, were on board. All seven are presumed dead.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

Rest in peace.