Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch....
Obiden! McCain! Palin! Bristol!
The airwaves and blogosphere is fairly crackling with talk on the upcoming presidential election. With the conventions just half over and a little over 60 days left, the moment is certainly ripe to start schooling up on the who will be the US Chief Executive over the next four years.
Yet, there are other concerns, more close to home, that should also pique taxpayers' interest: Now is the time when Texas state agencies start issuing their legislative budget requests. In other words, now is the time we're going to get our first idea on how much Texas taxpayers are going to pony up to run the government the next two years.
The incomparable Will Lutz of the Lone Star Report recently provided some simple guidelines on how taxpayers can assess the state's proposed spending:
- What kind of surplus/shortage will we have? Compare the Texas Legislative Budget Board's (LBB) estimates to the Comptroller's estimate of revenue.
- How do we know what is happening with entitlement spending? Entitlements are government financial obligations, mainly public welfare programs, that taxpayers are on the hook for supporting no matter what. Generally linked to caseloads, entitlement spending is a very large and hard to reduce item in the state budget.
- What are going to be the big-ticket budget debates in the upcoming session? Check out exceptional spending items from agencies as clues. See below....
- How can interested parties and the public follow these debates? The Internet affords many opportunities for additional citizen insight into the budget process.
On the last point, I recommend having a look see at the Texas Legislative Budget Board's website, especially:
- The Texas Budget Source: This is basically a window into the actual numbers fed into the state budget process by state agencies. Come here to get the base numbers.
- Texas Fiscal Size Up: More detail than you'd ever want on how the trends in Texas government revenue and spending trends. This document is a good resource for examining revenue by source (including federal source), spending by function, and how those two trends compare to population and personal income.
- Budget 101: While not exactly light reading, this 74 page document is a good overview of how the Texas state budget process works. However, it does not show the "process behind the process", that is the method by which lobbyists put forward the interests of their clients in hopes of driving business from the state.