AUSTIN (AP) — The first big number of the next Texas budget is on its way.
Republican Comptroller Susan Combs on Monday releases her biennial revenue estimate — the crucial number that sets the limit on what lawmakers can spend for 2014 and 2015, when Democrats and teachers hope to reverse, or at least bandage, deep cuts in the current budget that included $5.4 billion slashed from public education.
Budget observers expect Combs to announce a surplus that could be in the neighborhood of $8 billion, as Texas’ economy is humming again after lawmakers in 2011 wrote a cut-to-the-bone budget as the nation lurched out of the Great Recession.
At the time, unemployment in the state was the highest in a decade and the Legislature faced a $27 billion shortfall. But unemployment now is at a four-year low of 6.2 percent, sales tax receipts are skyrocketing and money is pouring into state coffers behind a new energy boom.
Combs has been guarded about the revenue forecast, steering clear of even hinting where the number might land.
Lawmakers don’t have to spend all the money Combs will say is available — and chances are they probably won’t. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst want a budget cap that would limit any increase in state spending to a sum of population growth plus inflation, which would likely come in below the revenue forecast.
Under current conditions, their plan would create a general revenue budget of $89.29 billion. Combs’ estimate in January 2011 was $72.2 billion in general-purpose spending available.
The state still has bills to settle before writing the next budget. Among the obligations are a $4.7 billion Medicaid tab and about $600 million spent battling wildfires in 2011.
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