The Real Texas Budget: Lots of Heat and Little Transparency
The Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) recently released “Fiscal Size-up: 2014-2015 Biennium,” a report that gave a comprehensive view of spending, appropriations, and budget plans that would be in place for the next biennium. However, thanks to the folks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), Texans have received an education on how the LBB does not accurately depict the growth in state spending.
Not only does the LBB fail to report how much the government is actually spending, they don’t know what the government is spending the money on. The “Real Texas Budget” released last week by TPPF, provides accurate numbers on how much Texas taxpayers are on the hook for. Key findings from the report:
Texas Legislature appropriated $44 billion more in 2013 than it did in 2011, a 25.8 percent increase.
Instead of the 5% spending increase reported by the LBB, there will actually be a 9% spending increase during the current biennium compared to the previous.
Government spending in Texas is increasing faster than the rate of growth in population and inflation, costing taxpayers nearly $16.3 billion over the next biennium compared to what would’ve been spent if lawmakers kept spending in line with inflation and population
This is not the first time the Texas government has increased spending in the budget. There was an increase in the last biennium, but it was done by backfilling, removing or shifting line items, and delaying payments to future budgets, which has only confused and misinformed taxpayers.
Due to inaccurate numbers, delayed budget releases (the first budget was not released till nearly 8 months after the legislature adopted the budget), and behind the scenes budget increases, there is a clearly a desperate need for a more transparent and accurate reporting on state finances.
Currently it is acceptable for budget data release to public to be delayed by months, giving room for mysterious behind the scenes backfilling and redirecting. As TPPF report points out, giving the public near real-time access to the budget would institute the level of transparency needed to improve stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Another solution offered by TPPF is program based budgeting, which displays each program with their revenues and expenses, as well as the source of funds per each line item listed. Texas uses a budget format that is confusing to even the quickest budget experts. Moving to program-based budget would decrease the issue of misleading line item shifting or payment delays. Fortunately, the introduction of bills for program-based budgeting has already begun.
Photo Credit: Jack