Lawmakers face wealth of decisions on 2014–15 budget

There is only one piece of legislation the state constitution requires the Texas Legislature to pass each session: the budget.

The battle over tens of billions of dollars in state spending began before the session, as did the discussion on how to limit growth of that spending.

State leaders have pledged to spend no more than $77.4 billion in nondedicated funds for the next budget cycle after the Legislative Budget Board set a spending growth cap of 10.71 percent in November.

Starting point

The House and Senate on Jan. 14 released their base budgets for the next biennium, with neither group putting any more money back into schools after more than $5 billion in education cuts last session.

The House proposed a $187.7 billion budget, while the Senate put forth a slightly leaner bill amounting to $186.8 billion.

State leaders said the budgets are just a starting point and are subject to months of public hearings.

Some cautioned against making decisions that might further limit necessary services.

"As a legislator, I would not be representing my district in Houston if I were to not ensure that Texas moves forward in a responsible way that provides for the growth of its citizens and the needs of its children, the elderly, colleges, universities, financial aid for college students, and middle-income Texans," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-District 139, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Revenue outlook

When State Comptroller Susan Combs released her annual revenue estimate Jan. 7, she allotted $101.4 billion for general spending, leaving lawmakers with a surplus of $8.8 billion.

The oil and gas boom produced billions in taxes, Combs said, and helped Texas recover from a recession that left lawmakers with a $25 billion shortfall in 2011.

"Texas experienced a very strong rebound from a severe recession," Combs said. "The state's robust economic recovery led to better-than-expected revenue collections in major taxes The outlook for both the economy and state revenue is for continuing expansion as the fast growth of the economic recovery gives way to moderate, sustained growth."

Current budget

The current $173.5 billion budget, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011, includes $70.4 billion in nondedicated spending.

Nondedicated revenue is largely dependent on sales taxes, and funds the budget requests of state agencies, which oversee—and pay for—programs such as electricity bill subsidies and financial aid.

The rest of the budget is funded primarily with federal funds and dedicated general revenue such as franchise taxes, as well as others collected for specific purposes.