AUSTIN — In order to address a projected state budget shortfall that could total more than $20 billion, state agencies must hunt for ways to make even deeper cuts.
Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus on Dec. 7 signed and sent a letter directing each state agency to identify an additional 2.5 percent that can be cut from their original general revenue and general-revenue-dedicated appropriations for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.
Nearly a year ago, on Jan. 15, Perry, Dewhurst and Straus asked agencies and institutions of higher education to identify a 5 percent reduction to their 2010-2011 appropriations.
According to the Dec. 7 letter, the 82nd Texas Legislature will adopt a supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011, which will apply the 2.5 percent in addition to the previously requested cuts.
“While sales tax receipts have improved since the beginning of the year, reduced spending in the current fiscal year will help prepare for budget reductions that will be necessary to balance the budget for the 2012-2013 biennium,” according to the letter.
The 82nd Texas Legislature will convene Jan. 11.
Tax collections up for November
Comptroller Susan Combs on Dec. 8 said November state sales tax revenue totaled $1.84 billion, up 8.7 percent compared to November 2009.
Sales tax revenue has grown for eight consecutive months compared to year-ago levels, with recent gains above the 5 percent mark, she added.
Combs uses sales tax collections as one of more than a dozen “Key Texas Economic Indicators,” all of which can be viewed at www.texasahead.org.
Lawmaker to file ‘tax honesty’ bill
State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, on Dec. 6 announced he will introduce a constitutional amendment that establishes honesty in taxation and classifies fees, surcharges and other revenue-generating measures as taxes.
Raymond, vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said, “It is time we make it harder for politicians to hide the truth from the people, and the truth is, if you raise fees, you raise taxes. We need to make sure all taxes are out in the open, so Texans know when their taxes are being raised.”
Raymond said he fears “that a looming deficit of roughly $25 billion will tempt some lawmakers to try and make up that deficit by raising fees and surcharges without calling them taxes. That would include items like driver’s licenses, hunting and fishing licenses and even obtaining a copy of a birth certificate.”
TRS fund notches best earnings
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas on Dec. 9 announced its Trust Fund earned 12.6 percent for the 2010 plan year, which ended Sept. 30.
The performance places TRS first among its public pension fund peers with asset values of $10 billion or more.
As of Sept. 30, the value of the fund had reached $100.3 billion – up by more than $8.9 billion from the same date a year earlier.
The trust fund, established to finance member benefits, is the seventh largest public pension plan in the U.S. and among the 20 largest funds in the world. Nearly 1.3 million public education and higher education employees and retirees participate in the system, TRS said.
Anti-bullying legislation filed
State Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and John Whitmire, D-Houston; and state Reps. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, Mark Strama, D-Austin; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, each have filed bills to curb bullying that occurs particularly among school children.
The bills would prohibit old-fashioned bullying, “cyber” bullying, harassment and intimidation, all of which can take many forms.
Some of the legislation calls for the creation of anti-bullying hotlines for victims and witnesses to call.
Unemployment tax rates are set
The standard minimum unemployment insurance tax rate paid by Texas employers in 2011 will be 0.78 percent, up from 0.72 percent in 2010, the Texas Workforce Commission announced Dec. 7.
The taxes replenish the Texas Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, which provides unemployment insurance for Texas workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
The tax rate increase was necessary to offset two years of higher Unemployment Insurance benefit payments, the Texas Workforce Commission said.