Four Price - Texas State Representative, Republican, District 87 | Price: Texas budget reflects conservatism

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Price: Texas budget reflects conservatism

July 13, 2013
Amarillo Globe-News

By: Four Price

When Texas lawmakers convene in Austin for the legislative session every two years, our single constitutional responsibility is passing a balanced budget for state government spending. Proudly, I am a member of the budget writing committee in the Texas House. From my vantage point, I can say the recently passed state budget is conservative with modest growth to accommodate our state’s priorities. Let me provide a few insights about the budget Texas Panhandle residents should know.

First, the 2014-15 budget that the legislature passed and Rick Perry approved is fiscally responsible.

You may hear claims that the state’s spending increased by a double-digit percentage. Well, that’s misleading, especially when we look at the whole picture. Here’s an objective look at the budget we passed.

The 2014-15 budget reflects a 3.7 percent increase over 2012-13. This increase falls well below our population and inflation growth. Since 2003, the state budget has actually contracted by minus-1 percent when adjusting for population and inflation growth and excluding funding for property tax relief.

Today, Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the country — if not the fastest. Texas is a magnet for people coming from other states to find jobs and opportunities. That growth generates more revenue from existing taxes and fees, which translates to more spending to support the growth. Despite that growth, the 2014-15 budget increases less than the rate of inflation and less than our state’s population increase.

Second, this budget restores many funding cuts the state made during the last legislative session. We significantly restored funding for public education. This budget also includes full funding for projected growth in public education enrollment in 2014-15.

The 2014-15 budget also allocates $2 billion for a dedicated state fund that will support essential water projects, which are much needed in areas like ours. The fund, if approved and made permanent by Texas voters this November, will make loans for infrastructure projects that bring water to growing metropolitan and critical agricultural areas across Texas. Additionally, these measures will help ensure a sustainable water supply for generations of Texans.

On health care spending, I want to specifically discuss my role in the budget-writing process. I am one of 27 members of the House Appropriations Committee. Within that, I am one of five members on a subcommittee for Health and Human Services. Our subcommittee oversees the budget-writing process for 38 percent of the state’s budget because of the scope and costs of delivering health care to Texans. As a member of that subcommittee, I maintained primary responsibility for developing the budget for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, a $13.6 billion dollar appropriation for 2014-15. Think of this as our state’s safety net for those who cannot take care of themselves.

Related: End of 83rd General Session

Here are a few key points regarding this safety net spending. We increased appropriations so state facilities for the elderly and disabled could make facility repairs to provide better quality care. Also, this budget provides better salaries so these facilities can retain the best and most qualified nurses and physicians. Further, this area of the budget was configured to encourage independence in an effort to prevent Texans from being unnecessarily institutionalized, which can often be quite costly.

I consider this area of spending critical, as both the cities and rural areas will benefit. Our area is a microcosm of Texas. Like the Panhandle, Texas is diverse and growing. Thus, we have complex health care needs, especially among our elderly, disabled and poor. This spending boosts the quality of health care for those who fall through the system down to the safety net.

Third, budget writing is also an opportunity to lower taxes and fees and to implement spending reforms. We cut taxes and fees by $1.3 billion, and we enacted more transparency in spending.

A reform we need is the truth-in-spending measure. This measure will end the practice of collecting fees for one purpose and assigning them to another area of the budget. For example, state services like parks and roads regularly see fee intended for them diverted and allocated to other areas of the budget. Texans deserve better, and this reform will deliver transparency so the state routes all funds appropriately. This session, we directed 32 percent, or $1.6 billion, of such funds back to their intended source. Hopefully, we’ll redirect the remaining $4 billion in the next budget cycle.

In summary, your Legislature cut taxes and fees, strengthened public education as well as our critical health care safety net, and kept the budget’s increase below the rate of inflation and population growth. I consider this evidence that fiscally conservative principles are at work for the people of Texas.

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, represents District 87, which includes the Texas Panhandle, in the Texas House of Representatives.