The Senate Finance subcommittee on Fiscal Matters is a little like a legislative special ops team—a select group of senators tasked with a single mission: To somehow find $5 billion in additional budget savings and non-tax revenue to help assuage the state’s $27 billion budget shortfall.
The subcomittee held its first meeting this morning, where Chair Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, divided the group into four research teams. (Listed below.) Each is responsible for analyzing a different aspects of the state’s revenue system, from tax exemptions to maximizing state assets. Duncan asked committee members to commit the full week to their research assignments and report back Friday.
“This is probably one of the more important things were are going to be doing this session if we want to get out of this session with a balanced budget.” Duncan told his panel members. “It is incumbent on all of us to work diligently.”
No one knows if the subcommittee will be able to find the dollars—if the senators already have a plan, Duncan didn’t let on. Higher driver’s license fees and tuition hikes are among some of the options that may be considered according to Peggy Fikac at the Houston Chronicle. If found, the $5 billion would help fund key education, health and human services that face massive budget cuts this session. It would hardly be enough to keep all our teachers employed or all Texas nursing homes open, but it could help.
But while lawmakers repeatedly say they hope to soften the cuts as much as possible, most of the Republican majorities in both chambers adamantly refuse to consider creating any new revenue through new or increased taxes. Furthermore, Gov. Rick Perry only supports using about a third of the state’s Rainy Day fund, which totals $9 billion in savings. The committee was well aware of the potential political liabilities. When asked about reforming state taxes on business, Duncan acknowledged that the subcommittee would be “looking at other ideas that have less political drag. But that is surely something that may come up.”
The teams: Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Sen Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, will research ways in which the state can maximize the use of state assets. Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will be responsible for analyzing general revenue distribution. Sen. Patrick will also be paired with Sen. West to look at ways to improve tax collection and review existing tax exemptions, while Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini statutory changes embedded in HB1.