Texas Budget Mess Now as Bad as California’s

It’s come to this: The Texas budget outlook has become so bleak that we’re comparing rather favorably to the one state where balanced budgeting goes to die.

People, our budget deficit is now as bad as California’s.

Yes, the over-spending, over-regulated capital of hippiedom now has a state fiscal outlook on par with the Lone Star State.

That fact may not sit well with some people—especially in the governor’s office, which loves to bash California and never misses an opportunity to point out how Texas’ low-tax, business-friendly model has led to a more robust economy and sound state finances. When California faced a $60 billion deficit last year—a shortfall that was bigger than the entire budget of most states—you could almost hear the chortling from the Texas governor’s office. It seemed a handy example of what happens when you put big-spending liberals in charge.

It wasn’t that simple, though. The causes of California’s problems—and Texas’ lack thereof—were varied and complex. And now the states’ budget deficits are looking very similar.

Texas: $18 billion shortfall (estimated) or about 20 percent of state spending.

California: $19.1 billion shortfall (official estimate) or about 20 percent of state spending.

The numbers match up pretty neatly.

A couple of caveats: Texas—as you probably know—budgets in two-year cycles. If the budget gap does turn out to be $18 billion (and we won’t have an official number until early next year), that would represent about 20 percent of the $87 billion in state funds that Texas allocated for 2010-2011.

California budgets one year at time. But the state spends about double what Texas does. So a $19.1 billion budget gap represents about 20 percent of the roughly $83 billion California will spend this year from its general fund.

You can read a breakdown of California’s proposed budget for next year here.

(Another caveat: I found several different figures for California’s state spending (not counting federal funds). The governor’s office budget proposal seems to show $123 billion in state spending. But the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times both reported about $83 billion, so I’m going with that number.)

It’s also worth noting that even though Texas’ budget deficit is very similar to California’s, the Lone Star State is still in a better fiscal position. Texas has better credit ratings and nearly $9 billion banked in the Rainy Day Fund. We also haven’t yet sliced our budget by about a quarter, as California did last year. (And California is losing $52 million a day because state leaders missed their deadline to pass a budget and still can’t agree.)

But if our budget deficits persist, we could very well end up in the same position.

The days when Texas leaders could mock California—or at least its budget mess—appear to be over.

Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

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Published at 4:33 pm CST
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