In the first week of June the 84th Texas Legislature adjourned after the biennial 140-day session. People sometimes question why such a large state would meet only every other year. The answer lies in our state constitution and the concept of limited government. In fact, the only bill we are required to pass is the state budget.
The scope of Texas government is broad. Funding the core functions of the state requires adequate funds for public schools, roads, water supplies, health and human services and other areas. The 2016-2017 budget we adopted funds state obligations to the tune of $209.4B. While there is no doubt that this is a large number it is still less than the federal governments takes in and spends in a single month!
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a leading Texas-based think tank. They praised the Texas budget by saying, “We applaud the state leadership and the Legislature for passing a conservative Texas budget that is within taxpayers’ ability to support it, avoiding the threat of burdening taxpayers with the expectation of higher future taxes and fees.”
Texas is on sound financial footing and that is one factor that helps make Texas the envy of the nation. The two-year $209,431,600,000 budget has modest growth of just 3.6%. That is an increase of less than 2% per year. We kept the growth well below the constitutional spending cap and below the rate of population growth and inflation. Furthermore, we delivered nearly $4B in property and franchise tax relief while preserving the Rainy Day Fund, which has a balance of over $11B.
In terms of the state’s priorities, none rank higher than funding education. As the recipient of the largest appropriation, the Texas education system will receive $78.4B. That represents 37.4% of the entire budget. Many school districts are experiencing fast growth, and an additional $1.5B was budgeted to account for these new students.
The second highest appropriation in the budget is for Health and Human Services. This budget category will receive $77.2B, or 36.8% of total spending. Most of this money will pay for the state’s share of funding the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. The federal government pays 60% and the state pays 40% of the cost of these large entitlement programs.
Sadly, Williamson County has seen numerous deaths of children in foster care in recent years. Child Protective Services was appropriated $2.8B. That represents an increase of $332M to address serious issues related to child abuse, neglect and deaths in foster care.
With education and health and human services accounting for 74.2% of the state budget the remaining 25.8% of the budget is divided up between general government, the Judiciary, public safety, roads, parks, regulatory functions and business and economic development.
In the public safety arena we provided historic funding levels for border security at $840M. This additional funding provides for hiring 250 new State Troopers and obtaining the equipment needed to address the threat Texas faces from transnational gangs, drug trafficking organizations, drug cartels and human traffickers. The federal government’s failure to secure the border opens the path for repeated violations of our state’s sovereignty, and leaves a trail of human misery in the form of sex trafficking, drug smuggling, murder, extortion and home invasions.
Building and maintaining our road network is critical to our economic vitality. Last session we dedicated billions of dollars to non-tolled roads and this session we increased that number. Significant steps were taken to end the diversions of tax dollars that were collected for building roads, but were being used for other budget priorities. As a result, we freed up over $1B in funding for the State Highway Fund without raising taxes. We also specifically wrote into law that the new money allocated for roads must be used for non-tolled projects. Other new funding formulas will bring an additional $2.5B annually for roads. Building and maintaining our roads is a core function of government and the overall budget for TXDOT is $23.2B.
We balanced the budget, provided tax cuts and funded our most critical needs. Nearly every bill passed by the legislature is, by its very nature, a compromise. There are some portions of the budget I would have liked to have appropriated more money to and some areas less, but in the end I voted for the budget. It was adopted 115 Yeas to 33 Nays.
State Representative Tony Dale is a member of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, the House Energy Resources Committee, and the House Local and Consent Calendars Committee. He represents southwestern Williamson County including the communities of Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek, and portions of Austin and Round Rock. He can be contacted at