Legislators just got a bit of good news from the Texas State Comptroller. She is predicting that when the legislators meet for the new session in early 2007, there will be a $4.5 billion surplus in the state budget.
This is quite a change from four years ago, when there was a $9 billion shortfall. How did we get a surplus? It comes mainly from a 12% increase in sales tax collections, and cuts in state services.
Some of the most serious cuts were when legislators threw thousands of children off the state health insurance program, and the Parks & Wildlife Department was seriously underfunded, resulting in deterioration of state parks and the closing of some.
The legislators probably should fix both of these problems before they find new ways to blow the surplus. Two other things that need to be looked at are school funding [yes, the new funding passed in the last legislature will probably prove to be inadequate], and salaries of state employees. When compared to other states, Texas state employee salaries rank very low.
So, there is really not a surplus if Texas takes care of the problems created by legislators in the past. I wouldn't count on a lot of new program spending, if the Texas Legislature takes care of these problems first, and these four areas seriously need to be addressed.
The legislators are being given an opportunity to correct past mistakes. Let's hope they do so.