State gives strong revenue forecast

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Local leaders hope lost funding can be restored

More than $101 billion is being projected for general-purpose spending in the 2014-15 biennium, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced Monday.

Local leaders say they’re hopeful funding lost during the current biennium can be restored in the next.

The state estimates general revenue collections from taxes, fees and other income will be $96.2 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, the comptroller said in a news release. About $3.6 billion would be set aside from those funds and placed in the state’s Rainy Day Fund (the state’s saving fund), leaving $92.6 billion in net general revenue.

The comptroller’s office projected an $8.8 billion ending balance from the current biennium, giving the Legislature an estimated $101.4 billion for general-purpose spending.

The comptroller said the state’s largest revenue sources came from sales tax –– more than half of the state’s revenue — generating approximately $54.9 billion in the 2014-15 biennium.

The state’s other tax revenue sources come from motor vehicle sales taxes, oil production tax and the state’s franchise tax revenue. All sources are projected to increase in 2014-15.

The Texas economy is projected to increase by 3.4 percent in fiscal 2013 and in fiscal 2014, the comptroller reported. For fiscal year 2015, the economy is projected to grow by 3.9 percent.

The 83rd legislative session begins today. Legislators during the session will set the 2014-15 budget.

Jamie Wilson, superintendent of the Denton school district, said that while he doesn’t know what this might mean for public education funding, he’s hopeful the projected revenues might allow legislators to reinstate the $5.4 billion cut from public education funding two years ago.

“It’s not a guarantee,” he said.

Everyone took their “fair share” of funding cuts last legislative session, Wilson said. The state is in a better spot now with a projected surplus for the current biennium, and he’s hopeful with the surplus there’s no additional reductions to public education funding.

The Denton school district saw more than $17 million in state revenue cuts from its 2011-12 and 2012-13 budgets during the last session, Wilson said.

That resulted in the district reducing its personnel by about 280 and remaining staff taking on more responsibilities with fewer resources, he said.

The Denton district has joined many around Texas since the last legislative session in support of making education a priority and ensuring students have the necessary resources to prepare them for college and careers. Those efforts will continue throughout the legislative session, Wilson said. “The economics [of] our state are contingent … to a well-educated workforce,” he said.

In November, the Denton district hosted the Greater North Texas Community Engagement Symposium, bringing together about 80 people from school districts in Denton, Parker, Wise and Tarrant counties and state education circles for a discussion on public education funding, legislative priorities changing the perception of public schools and communicating a unified voice to elected officials about issues relevant to public education.

On Dec. 17 and 21, the Denton school board met with state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, and state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, to discuss a list of 10 legislative priorities approved by the board on Dec. 11.

Among the issues discussed were opposition to school vouchers; providing necessary resources for pre-kindergarten and early education programs; reinstating state public education funds cut in the last legislative session; fast-growth school districts; and making changes to the 50-cent debt service tax cap so that districts could have the necessary resources to build new schools and eliminate overcrowding.

Wilson said Crownover and Parker were interested in hearing their ideas.

Transportation leaders are also watching the start of the session with interest.

John Polster, the county’s transportation consultant, said it was too early to tell if any of the extra revenue would trickle down to county officials’ interests.

“The speaker of the House said this legislative session he wants to stop kicking the can down the road [and] address transportation, health and public education,” he said. “I would assume if the comptroller said there is a little more money, it would make it easier to state the case that now is the time.”

Local health officials were encouraged by the news, but they won’t speculate on how the Legislature will spend the money.

“We have made special requests through the Department of State Health Services for additional funding for immunizations, tuberculosis and for public health preparedness,” said Denton County Health Department Director Bing Burton. “Now whether the Legislature chooses to utilize any of that funding in those directions, I have no idea, but those are the areas we have identified that we need the most assistance. I know the state has lots of competing interests and certainly public health is one of many, so we will be hopeful.”

The city of Denton collected $25,886,938 in sales taxes in the first three quarters of 2012, according to a report published in November.

Dr. Robert Bland, chairman of the University of North Texas public administration department, said the state comptroller’s office had delivered good news, and now the state is in better shape to restore services that were lost last year and to provide better services.

Bland also noted that if the state wants to remain competitive, it needs to invest in its future and also take into account the growth of its population.

“It would be prudent for the state of Texas to take the lead and become one of the nation’s leaders in the quality of its schools, universities, transportation and mental health,” he said. “By doing so, we can become a magnet for people looking for work and businesses who are looking to invest.”

Bland said the state comptroller’s estimate was conservative and he expected the projected percentages for the fiscal years to increase in the next four to five months.

“We will have more data and will have more idea of what will happen in Washington, D.C., nationally,” he said, adding the state’s economic well-being is more favorable. “The state has the resources to make things right for all Texans.”

Karen Dickson, vice president of economic development for the Denton Chamber of Commerce, said in an e-mail that the comptroller’s report confirmed what Texans already knew.

“In Texas, we’ve always known that our state was faring better than the rest of the nation during the recession as well as through the recovery,” she said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com .


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