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Texas Legislature’s 2015 Session Begins With Budget Surplus, Says Comptroller Hegar

One of the jobs Glen Hegar, Texas’ new Comptroller of Public Accounts, has is to estimate just how much spending money the state’s lawmakers will have over the next two years. This time around, a large unspent surplus from the previous administration has given the comptroller a little more breathing room despite a continued drop in oil prices.

The 2013 estimate by outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs was off, giving legislators an additional $7.5 billion in 2015, and bringing the grand total lawmakers have to spend up to $113 billion. And Hegar said this estimate by his office does account for steadily declining oil prices. “These lower prices will likely lead to a significant slowing in oil exploration and production, and thus has dampened our overall economic forecast for the biennium,” he said.

But the surplus helps offset what might otherwise have made things difficult. Hegar said over next two years, the Texas economy should continue to expand, but at a much slower pace than seen in recent times, unless there’s a reversal in the decline of oil prices.

TalmadgeHeflin, with the conservative think-tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said they were happy with the comptroller’s estimates. “It seems like a very strong economy going forward even though it’s a little less then we have seen in the last couple of years,” said Heflin. He said that still should leave three to five billion dollars for the tax cuts that the Republicans would want to pass in 2015.

Eva DeLuna Castro, with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, sees a problem in this approach. “Once you put tax cuts ahead, you don’t have enough to keep basic services going,” she explained. She said relying on the volatility of sales tax revenues could lead to lawmakers coming back in two years to make additional cuts to other state services.