As the third called legislative session begins, legislators are still finalizing the highway funding part of the Texas state budget for 2014 and 2015–the two-year budget period that begins September 1, 2013. Spending authorized to date—excluding $2 billion in water plan funding that requires voter approval in November—totals $197 billion in All Funds, of which $95 billion is General Revenue. In the next two years, these amounts will make it possible to provide basic state services such as…
- Educating 5 million public elementary and secondary students and 1.3 million public college students,
- Providing health care to about 4.5 million low-income Texans through Medicaid or CHIP,
- Operating a state criminal justice system with 150,000 adult prison inmates, 88,000 active parolees, and 165,000 adults under community supervision (probation)
- State highways and roads for over 15 million licensed drivers and 22 million registered vehicles
- State parks and historic sites for 8 million visitors annually
Unfortunately, both the All Funds and General Revenue levels of spending are not expected to keep up with the needs of Texas’ rapidly growing population and the rising costs of services. At the appropriated levels approved by the 2013 Texas Legislature, All Funds spending will be 7 percent higher than it was in 2012-13 (adjusting for health science center patient income no longer in the budget), and General Revenue will be 8 percent higher. But population and inflation combined are likely to be 9 to 10 percent in 2014-15.
A “bare bones” current services General Revenue budget for 2014-15 – continuing the cuts to education, health care, and other state services—would have required $97 billion, while full restoration of services provided before the Great Recession would have required $108 billion. Neither of these funding levels was reached because other priorities, including $1.1 billion in state tax cuts, took precedence.
In the coming weeks, we will be looking more closely at how the 2014-15 state budget will contribute to creating a better Texas, and where and why it will fall short, with a focus on educational and health care services that are especially important for low- and moderate-income Texans and their families.