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As Texas Coffers Swell, Will Lawmakers Restore Budget Cuts?

August 6, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - With new signs that Texas is recovering from the recent recession faster than expected, social-services advocates are calling on lawmakers to reverse some of the more painful budget cuts implemented last year. But state leaders so far are showing few signs they will change course, warning that another downtick in revenue is still possible.

Budget officials reported to legislators Friday that this year's tax revenues are about 13 percent higher than expected. It's some of the best news the state has seen in a long time, according to Linda Bridges, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

"The state revenue situation is very rosy, and there will be more money there when the Legislature convenes in January. So, Health and Human Services, education, a lot of that funding can be restored and should be restored."

The report from the comptroller's office said the revenue growth rate could slow next year, noting that the state's economy is susceptible to world markets. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst responded by expressing hope that the windfall could pave the way for new tax cuts, but he said, more likely, the money will be used to maintain spending on a growing population. Lawmakers, meanwhile, have instructed state agencies to prepare for further cuts in the next budget.

Linda Bridges says leaders who last year described the budget axe as a regrettable-but-necessary tool for coping with a
$27 billion shortfall should now begin repairing ailing institutions. She thinks public schools are a good place to start: state education aid was cut by $500 per student.

"Pre-kindergarten - cut; programs for struggling students - cut; larger class sizes; schools closed down; 30,000 educators lost their jobs. 12,000 of those were teachers. I mean these are things people care about."

She says the better-than-expected economic picture shows that last year's decision to slash the budget without tapping the state's "Rainy Day Fund" was rash. The comptroller's report estimates that the fund will swell to more than
$8 billion next year.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX