AUSTIN — The Texas Legislative Budget Board set a $77.9 billion cap on state spending Thursday for the 2014-15 budget year, a 10 percent increase above the current discretionary spending limit.
But Republican leaders said the actual state budget likely will be less. Gov. Rick Perry and his allies have said they want to limit spending increases to population growth plus inflation. Ursula Parks, the budget board’s director, told lawmakers that experts estimate that rate will be 9.85 percent in 2014-15.
The spending cap is based on the economic forecasts of state revenues over the next two years. The final cap, though, will be set by State Comptroller Susan Combs in January when she issues an official revenue estimate for 2014-15.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said his chamber will produce an appropriations bill where spending increases are limited to that rate, and bragged that Texas ranks 49th in the nation in terms of per capita state spending.
Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Turner, vice chairman of the House finance committee, objected to making commitments before the 2013 legislative session even begins.
“I would urge everyone here — including myself — not to write a budget sitting around this table today and commit ourselves to a position that may not be in the best interests of the state of Texas,” Turner said. I don’t think we are in the best position right now to place limits on what we are going to do in a session that is yet to start.”
The Legislative Budget Board writes the first draft of the state budget every two years, and then lawmakers haggle over an appropriations bill during the session, which begins in January. The Texas House and Senate take turns drafting the initial appropriations bill; in 2013, the Senate will produce the first-draft of the bill.
During the 2011 session, the Republican-led Legislature had to cut $15 billion in state spending, targeting $5.4 billion in school funding and shorting health programs for the poor and disabled by $4.7 billion.
Lawmakers will have to cover that shortfall for Medicaid by March 2013 and will need to deal with at least $7 billion in additional spending for Medicaid over the next two years.
Democrats also want to restore the spending cut from public schools, who have sued the state claiming the state’s system for funding public schools is unconstitutional.
Despite the big jump in expected revenue, lawmakers will still have to make tough decisions and cut some programs. Republicans also appear to have adopted the inflation plus population growth limit as an article of conservative values.