"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Last week, TPPF released a report "The Real Texas Budget," that detailed current fiscal realities in Texas. The report used two distinct metrics to measure the profligacy of the 83rd Texas Legislature. On cue, Quorum Report deliberately confused the two metrics:
The conservative think tank in Austin where Midland oilman Tim Dunn is Vice Chairman of the board on Tuesday released a report saying that Texas state government spending saw a 9 percent increase over the previous biennium.Erica Grieder (*) of Texas Monthly went further:
In their new report, which you can see here, the Texas Public Policy Foundation said their analysts looked at the finished budget and did comparisons going back to 2004.
The 9 percent figure is, of course, far less than their previous estimate of as much as a 26 percent increase in state spending that was splashed on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal under the headline “Texas Goes Sacramento” and was repeated ad nauseam by Tea Party candidates running against establishment Republicans in the recent primaries and runoffs.
Lurking on the fringes, however, were a group of conservatives clamoring that the budget actually represented a 26 percent increase in spending for 2014-15 compared to 2012-13. That figure was a blatant misrepresentation, but one that gained a fair amount of traction, especially after the Wall Street Journal published an editorial, in June, harrumphing that the 26 percent surge in state spending amounted to a California-style spending spree that would put Texas on the road to serfdom. Opposition to the budget became a litmus test among conservatives, a factor that would be heavily weighed in the report cards some of them are elected to represent.Of course, TPPF did no such thing, as they explain:
Where did the 26 percent figure come from? Well, it came from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The same Texas Public Policy Foundation that just released a report estimating that state spending will increase 9 percent in the next biennium.
In other words, TPPF is now disavowing its own earlier analysis.
Due to variations in the way money is spent and data availability, multiple metrics might be used. We might, for instance, compare appropriations to appropriations or spending to spending.In other words, the reason the session over session (rather than biennium over biennium) number is more accurate is because a big chunk of the 26% spending increase was buried in those supplementals. That budget gimmick allowed lawmakers to claim they "only" increased spending 9%. But, of course, if the people have accurate information about the budget, it could upset the crony party in Austin....
There’s an important point here, in that appropriations and spending are not the same thing.The former is what a Legislature approves to be spent, and the latter is how much taxpayer money is actually spent. A credible comparison of an adopted budget alone — that is, appropriations — against actual spending from the previous cycle is not made, because the state almost always spends more during a two-year budget cycle than the appropriated amount.
Advocates of more spending like to compare different numbers over differing time spans to make their growth rates look artificially smaller.
The first is session vs. session: measuring the appropriations from one legislative session to the next. TPPF employed this method in May and June 2013 to expose the 83rd Legislature’s heavy bias toward spending. That Legislature’s problems actually started with its predecessor, 2011’s 82nd Legislature, which by delaying education payments and underfunding Medicaid, gave the impression that legislators spent conservatively. In fact, they merely pushed spending into the 2013 session. We sounded the alarm on this back in 2011, writing in the Austin American-Statesman that the 82nd Legislature’s “budget writers had to rely heavily on gimmicks and one-time fixes.” We also noted then that legislators passed up key opportunities to make state budgeting more transparent and understandable to the ordinary Texan.
In 2013’s 83rd Legislature, legislators passed supplemental bills to backfill spending into the previous budget period, and undo the accounting gimmicks of 2011.
As we published last June and republished this week, the appropriations approved by the 83rd Legislature in 2013, including the backfill money, were significantly higher than the appropriations approved back in 2011; 24 percent higher in state general revenue and almost 26 percent higher in all funds, using the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) latest numbers.
That's a tremendous increase by any standard.
The second metric taxpayers may find useful is comparing spending on a biennium vs. biennium basis. This is the method legislators generally use to evaluate the growth of state budgets — not least because it often yields smaller numbers that may be less shocking to taxpayers. TPPF’s “Real Texas Budget” report includes this metric.
* -- In the original post, we misspelled Erica Grieder's last name, we apologize and have fixed the post:
@cahnman @quorumreport @TPPF @morgslw @Michellebbz That's not how my name is spelled.
— EricaGrieder (@EricaGrieder) June 10, 2014
Update: If you have ten minutes, TPPF's Bill Peacock does a great overview: