Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Republican lawmakers completely failed to keep their promise not to “kick the can” down the road when it came to solving the largest budget shortfall in the state’s history. That’s according to a new Associated Press report, which concludes that Perry and the GOP legislature largely balanced the state’s budget through flimsy accounting gimmicks that do nothing to secure Texas’ financial footing.
The self-professed fiscal conservatives resorted to tactics like delaying a $2.3 billion payment to schools by one day to technically push it into the next fiscal year and keep it off the books of this budget. They also “found” $800 million by ordering the state’s accountants to forecast a faster increase in land values to show more property tax income:
Gov. Rick Perry signed a budget that was balanced only through accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013.
It accomplishes, however, what the Republican majority wanted most: It did not raise taxes, took little from the Rainy Day Fund and shifted any future deficits onto the next Legislature.
The new budget also preposterously assumes there will be no growth in the number of school children in Texas, even though it is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. Experts predict this trick alone will shortchange school districts by $2 billion.
Texas lawmakers had to close an enormous $27 billion budget deficit this year. Amazingly, only about a third of it was caused by the economic downturn. The state has had a chronic shortage of revenue after years of slashing property and business taxes and creating numerous tax breaks and exemptions. Conservative governors have slashed state services to the bone, so there was no more fat to cut from the budget.
As governor for over a decade, Perry’s “fiscal conservatism” has doubled the state’s debt from $13.7 billion in 2001 to $34.08 billion in 2009. He’s refused to raise taxes on the wealthy and brags about not dipping into the state’s substantial Rainy Day Fund. (However, Perry’s fellow Texas Republicans claim Perry has appropriated nearly all the money in the Rainy Day Fund, and have asked him to stop claiming that he preserved it.)
Democrats have fought back against the GOP claim that it was truly a balanced budget. “It’s all smoke and mirrors and misdirection,” said state Rep. Garnett Coleman (D).