The three leaders at the top of Texas government have told state agencies to tighten their belts for the next budget cycle to “restrain the size and scope of government to ensure that employers are empowered to create more jobs that benefit hardworking Texans.”
Note this: Despite widespread hand-wringing during the past year about what the downturn in oil and gas prices means for the Texas economy, it was not economic fears that led Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to call for budget trimming.
It was the perceived need to “restrain the size and scope of government.”
And they listed some notable exceptions to their call for restraint — funding for public schools, Child Protective Services, border security and mental health programs — that telegraph their priorities for the legislative session that begins in January.
Straus warned separately that money might be tight.
“Due to the slowdown in parts of our economy, some difficult decisions will be required to balance the next state budget, and the process of making those decisions begins now,” he said.
Still, the instructions were mild compared with previous years when state revenue was seriously strapped.
The leaders told agency heads to trim 4 percent from their “baseline budget” requests, a term used to describe money needed to continue providing current services, accounting for inflation and population growth.
In the midst of a serious economic slowdown in 2010, top state leaders ordered baseline budget cuts of 10 percent.
There are good reasons for most of this year’s exceptions.
The state Supreme Court has declared Texas school funding to be acceptable but “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.” Straus has ordered key House committees to look for improvements.
Border security is a political football.
The most notable new item on the spending priority list is mental healthcare. Straus has named a special committee of lawmakers to look into lapses in mental healthcare for Texans.