AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Texas Legislature's top budget writer sought Monday to reverse two accounting gimmicks used to balance the budget in 2011, a move that would add $2.6 billion to the current budget but leave more money to spend in the future.
Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts asked a House subcommittee to reverse a delay in payments to schools and stop a speed-up in collecting business taxes. The House already has plugged a $4 billion hole in the budget created when lawmakers failed to adequately fund Medicaid, the health program for the poor and disabled.
Pitts said that reversing the two accounting tricks this year will have a secondary impact of increasing the amount lawmakers can spend in the 2014-15 budget cycle.
Texas lawmakers in 2011 faced a $27 billion shortfall to pay for existing government services and had to cut spending by $15 billion from the previous budget. In order to balance the 2012-13 budget, they delayed a monthly payment to public schools by two weeks, pushing a $1.75 billion check originally due in August into September, the next fiscal year.
Republican lawmakers also convinced some businesses to pay $864 million early to help make ends meet, but those businesses have not yet paid the extra amount.
The Legislature is feeling flush with cash after the Texas comptroller announced in January that the state will collect more taxes than forecast in 2011. Now Pitts wants to use that extra revenue to reverse the accounting tricks.
The Texas Constitution also has a limit on how much the Legislature can increase spending from one two-year budget to the next. Even if both of these measures is passed, the Republican-controlled Legislature will still be $500 million under the spending cap for this budget, said Ursula Parks, the executive director of the Legislature Budget Board.
Texas Democrats had wanted to use some of the extra revenue to restore some of the $5.4 billion the Legislature cut from public education in 2011, but the bills Pitts introduced could stymie those efforts. In the past, lawmakers have left the delayed payment to public schools in place over several legislative sessions and used the extra money to boost spending on public schools.