Budget Statement by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Thursday, June 19, 2003
I have been in public office over a span of 30 years and this is one of the most difficult messages that I have had to deliver.
This is the first time the Legislature has sent the Comptroller a budget that is not balanced.
I cannot certify this budget because it is $185,900,000 short. That is a lot of money.
But it is not just about the amount of money, it’s about my constitutional obligation to protect and ensure a balanced budget for our present and future generations.
I represent over 22 million Texans, including all the legislators and leadership.
I am here today to fulfill my responsibility. To do otherwise would violate my constitutional duty and that I will never do.
Clearly, many issues go into financing the budget. No single issue is the ultimate margin; however, in this case two late developments were paramount.
First, the receipt and recognition of federal assistance dollars was absolutely critical in bringing the budget as close to certifiable as it is. Without the 1.26 billion federal dollars of which $836 million was used for General Revenue, this budget would be over a billion dollars short. Second, and on the minus side, late afternoon changes on the last day of the session in the Transportation Finance Bill transferred $236 million from the General Fund to the Texas Mobility Fund in Fiscal 2005.
When my staff completed tallying the effects of the 4000 pieces of legislation, 930 in the last seven days of the session, the budget did not balance.
There is a clear constitutional roadmap for the Legislature and the Comptroller to provide the people of Texas with a budget.
The Constitution requires a two-step process. First, the constitution makes clear that the Comptroller’s responsibility is to ensure that the commitments to spend are matched by an equal amount of revenue. If the Legislature is spending more than they have available in revenue, then the Comptroller is mandated by the constitution to return the appropriations bill to the Legislature.
Then second, the Legislature determines how to balance the budget, either through reductions in spending or increases in revenue.
The order of these steps is important for two reasons. First, it is set forth in the Constitution, and neither the Legislature nor the Comptroller has the authority to ignore constitutional mandates. Second, the Legislature cannot make decisions about whether to raise revenues or reduce appropriations until they have the Comptroller’s final fiscal analysis.
The Comptroller has no discretion under Section 49a(b) of Article 3 of the Texas Constitution. If presented with an "appropriation bill" that exceeds estimated revenue, the Comptroller, and I quote from the constitution, "shall endorse such finding thereon and return to the House in which same originated." The use of the word "shall" makes the provision mandatory, and deprives the Comptroller of any discretion in this regard."
This constitutional requirement cannot be ignored. I cannot abdicate my responsibility. The Legislature cannot abdicate its responsibility. The existence of the contingent rider does not solve the problem. If the constitutional process is to be changed, it must be by constitutional amendment voted on and approved by the people of Texas.
Regrettably, I cannot certify this bill. This isn’t about what I like or don’t like. For example, I don’t like spending the entire Rainy Day Fund, but I certified every dollar from the Rainy Day Fund. Also, the 78th Legislature increased by four times the use of one-time funding sources. But I counted these measures as certifiable because technically, the cash is there for the biennium though we are pushing the problem to future taxpayers.
I would have loved for the Legislature to have adopted a budget I could certify.
I would like to acknowledge the Herculean efforts of Chairman Bivins and Chairman Heflin, the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the conference committee on H.B. 1. I would also like to acknowledge the outstanding work of the Legislative Budget Board staff and the staff of the Governor’s Budget and Planning Office in working through many complex issues.
The Legislature has already been called back by the Governor for a special session on June 30. We need a certifiable "pay as you go" budget by mid July or the schools won’t open in September. We are here to work diligently with the Leadership and the Legislature for a balanced budget.
And I am here today to extend my hand and offer full cooperation working shoulder to shoulder with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker and the Legislature to balance the budget and to fulfill our commitment to the people of Texas.
- 30 -