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Appealing unsuccessfully to spend more money from the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund, state Sen. Rodney Ellis hearkened to legislative history, saying in floor debate May 16: "Members, this legislature has voted to use virtually all of the Rainy Day Fund four times" since its creation in the late 1980s. "The sad truth is that Texans and the (fund) are being held hostage to politics."
Back story: GOP Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s agreeable with taking about $3.1 billion from the fund, formally called the Economic Stabilization Fund, to help cover the state budget that runs through August. But Perry and many Republicans oppose tapping the fund, which is fed by state oil and gas oil production taxes, for the 2012-13 budget. Perry contends it needs to be protected in case of natural disasters.
Democrats, noting the projected multi-billion-dollar shortfall in state revenue needed to maintain current programs, say the current dire circumstances justify taking more from the fund.
And is Ellis correct about past legislatures voting four times to virtually empty the fund?
Jeremy Warren, Ellis’s spokesman, said the senator relied on a report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank that advocates for programs serving the poor. To help balance the 2012-13 budget, the center has urged lawmakers to use the fund, which is projected by State Comptroller Susan Combs to have a balance of $9.7 billion by the end of August 2013, or about $6.6 billion if lawmakers stick with applying $3.1 billion from the fund to this year’s deficit .
The center’s Feb. 21 report says: "In 1991, the Legislature spent the fund’s entire balance ($28.8
million) on public schools, and in 1993, spent the entire balance ($197 million) for criminal justice.
"In 2003, to deal with the last economic downturn, the Legislature appropriated $1.3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund—almost every penny of the balance the (state) comptroller forecast through 2005," the report says. "Again in 2005, the Legislature appropriated $1.9 billion in Rainy Day funds, using roughly half for 2005 shortfalls, and the other half for 2006-07, spending almost all the $2 billion that was forecast to be available."
Next, we confirmed the amounts of rainy-day money that lawmakers could have spent in each of these instances by reviewing biennial revenue forecasts made by respective state comptrollers. Finally, the Legislative Reference Library guided us to a Feb. 3 report by the House Research Organization, a non-partisan arm of the Texas House, specifying how much money the 1991, 1993, 2003 and 2005 Legislatures appropriated from the fund.
Punch line: The center’s recap is accurate.
We rate Ellis’s statement True.
Center for Public Policy Priorities, report, "Using The Rainy Day Fund to Ensure our Recovery and Prosperity," Feb. 21, 2011
House Research Organization, report, "Writing the State Budget," Feb. 3, 2011
State Comptroller of Public Accounts, reports, biennial revenue estimates for 1992-93, 1994-95, 2004-05 and 2006-07 (Legislative Reference Library)
Texas Senate, video archives, remarks by Sen. Rodney Ellis, Senate floor session, May 16, 2011 (2:07 mark)
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