Like the guy who finds a crumpled $20 bill on the floor on his way out of the tavern and heads right back to his favorite bar stool, Texas governments are all of a sudden flush.
Booming oil and gas industries have produced enough tax revenue to give the Legislature an estimated $8.8 billion more than they had to play with the last time they met in 2011.
(Please see the detailed revenue estimated for the 2014-15 biennium prepared by the Texas Comptroller here.)
And would you believe in Dallas County, commissioners found enough property value increases and spending cuts under the cushions to scrape together as much as $17 million to toss into the 2014 fiscal pickle jar?
To our deliberative heroes in Austin, according to the New York Times today, the surplus is very nearly as vexatious as an estimated $27 billion shortfall was coming into the last session.
For the titanium umbrella crowd who in 2011 predicted the Texas sky would unravel and drop, the surplus is an opportunity to atone for moral failures in public education, indigent health care, prisons and road infrastructure.
To those who see Tea Party freshmen taking their seats in an already conservative House there is, more than ever, pressure to appear in every spending measure austere.
Dallas County commissioners, too, are singing the ballad of fiscal surplus woe. Mike Cantrell, the only Republican on the court, reminded fellow commissioners how easy it is to spend a surplus, the Dallas Morning News reports.
“I’m hoping we move slowly,” Cantrell said.
But what of all the deprivation endured by Dallas County government since the economy began its atrophy in 2008? County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, suggested the county use its surplus to make up for lost time, giving raises to all department heads
There are, Jenkins said, “some real opportunities to improve the quality of life” in Dallas County, meaning, apparently, the lives of those running county departments.
State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, explained the current and perpetual dilemma to the Times this way:
“I think there’s going to be a group of people who think we’ve got the money, we need to spend it. I think there’s going to be a group of people who think we need to cut our budget more. The session could be very difficult because of those two groups of people pushing us.”
Check back with us in about 139 days. Having never in 33 years written a story about government returning a surplus to the taxpayers, we think we know which group of people will come out on top.
In the meantime, we plan to have a drink on the guy at the bar with the wrinkled twenty.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo by flickr user joelgoodman, used via a Creative Commons license.