The Texas Legislature will have almost $3 billion less available for spending in the 2018-19 budget than it did in the current 2016-17 budget.
We’ve expected as much for about two years as oil and gas prices went down and stayed down.
Comptroller Glenn Hegar put numbers behind our expectations Monday when he announced his Biennial Revenue Estimate. The Legislature begins its 140-day session at noon Tuesday, with the adoption of a balanced two-year budget its only constitutionally required task.
Available revenue is expected to be $104.87 billion, down from $107.73 billion two years ago, Hegar said.
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If everything goes as usual for the Republican-dominated Legislature, they’ll spend less than what’s available — because that’s what they do. They won’t tap the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” savings account, which Hegar said will have $11.92 billion tucked away by the end of the next two-year budget cycle.
The only question is how they will spread money around.
We already know there are areas of the budget that need more money, like the troubled Department of Family and Protective Services and its Child Protective Services and foster care programs.
A federal judge ruled more than a year ago that those programs actually put children in danger.
Public schools are the largest single portion of the budget. They always need more money to serve a constantly growing number of students, if not for putting together better educational programs.
Transportation usually needs more, but voters have already set aside extra money (Hegar says it totals about $6 billion) for that.
Texas always has more needs than the Legislature can fund. By the time the session ends May 29, there will be winners and losers in the budget.
If budget writers work hard at it, they’ll be able to find some legitimate ways of saving money.
They should try starting at the border, where the Department of Public Safety is spending $800 million on security operations in the current budget and wants an additional $300 million in the next one.
The federal government should pay for that, making $1.1 billion available for real Texas needs.