Reading the 2020-2021 Texas Budget Tea Leaves

And they’re off!
On June 22, the lengthy and critically important process for crafting the 2020-2021 state budget officially launched with the release of budget instructions to the leaders of Texas public agencies and higher education institutions.
Those of us wondering about implications for education, health care, and other critical public services should focus on the key parts of the instructions dealing with the General Revenue “baseline.”
What is the baseline? The baseline essentially becomes the starting point for legislative budget deliberations in 2019. You can think of the baseline like the base price of a new car – especially when it doesn’t include air conditioning, floor mats or other features that drivers want.
Once the 2019 Legislative Session begins in January, House and Senate budget-writers will determine the amount of federal and constitutionally dedicated funds that state services will receive through the 2020- 2021 budget. But the budget instructions have the most immediate impact on the half of the budget paid for with General Revenue taxes, fees, and other sources.
For the 2020-2021 budget cycle, the starting-point baseline for almost one-third of the General Revenue budget will be the same as what those services have budgeted for 2018 and 2019. This near-third of the budget goes mostly to higher education, adult and juvenile prisons, state parks, courts, environmental protection, and regulatory or general government agencies. According to the budget instructions, for example, if child support enforcement at the Attorney General’s Office receives $313 million in General Revenue support in the current budget, then that’s what its baseline will be for 2020-2021 – the same dollar amount. Note that it’s the same amount of money even if more children and families are expected to request those legal services, or if those services cost more.
This is an unrealistic starting point, since it excludes both population-driven needs and higher costs per person served – basic elements of what’s called a “current services” proposal.
Dig in further to the budget instructions in our latest policy brief.

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