At the start of the 82nd Legislature (2011), the message from voters was very clear
"Do Not Increase Taxes"
Whether or not one agrees with that message, it was clear from the beginning that the economic slump would require the state to make hard choices in cutting billions of dollars in spending.
Unlike the Federal Government, Texas cannot print money. Texas also has a "Balanced Budget" amendment in our state constitution. Therefore, when the State Comptroller provides the Biennial Revenue Estimate, that figure is the maximum the Appropriations Committee can appropriate. (Tax increases must originate with the House Ways and Means Committee -- not Appropriations.)
The first draft of the budget was short of revenue by more than $27 billion. About $9.8 billion of the shortage was in education. Another large portion of the shortage was in the Medicaid Program. ALL areas of the budget were closely scrutinized for places to reduce spending. Several programs were eliminated completely.
As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Current Fiscal Condition, I along with several other Appropriations members was able to pass two very important bills -- HB 4 and HB 275 -- that had the net effect of reducing the budget shortfall significantly. As a result, the budget was reduced by about $15 billion (instead of $27 billion). Education cuts were reduced to $4 billion (instead of $9.8 billion). That entire discussion lasted for many hours both in Committee and on the House Floor.
Near the end of the session my position on the Article III Appropriations Subcommittee allowed me to advocate for and secure funding for "Communities in Schools" and "Big Brothers/Big Sisters." Had I not been there, those programs almost surely would have been eliminated.
There were and are no easy answers to balancing the state's needs against its revenue resources. Our revenue has been essentially flat for three biennia. At the same time, our population is growing rapidly. In recent months the State Comptroller has reported revenues exceeding her previous estimates. If that trend continues, I am hopeful that some of the very painful cuts can be reversed.