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Take honest look at needs

Local leaders were understandably excited about the announcement from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Monday that more than $101 billion is being projected for general-purpose spending in the 2014-15 biennium.

Christmas may be over, but Combs’ forecast — on the eve of the opening of the 83rd legislative session — must have brought back many visions of sugar plums.

Local leaders say they’re hopeful that funding lost during the current biennium can be restored in the next legislative session, and we have a feeling that they’re not alone. We’re sure that Combs’ forecast will have officials across the state lining up to make their case for a share of the loot.

And why not? On the surface, at least, the report is cause for optimism, if not outright celebration. After many lean years of budget downturns, 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.

OK, so the projected increases are modest at best, but they are projected increases — and local officials who have been hit time and again with budget cuts are justifiably optimistic.

The state estimates that 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.

That’s certainly good news, but we will risk being called party-poopers by throwing out a note of caution — we hope legislators will use great care, even restraint, during upcoming budget deliberations.

Dr. Robert Bland, chairman of the University of North Texas public administration department, said the state is in better shape now to restore services that were lost last year and to provide better services. If Texas wants to remain competitive, Bland said, it needs to invest in its future and take into account the growth of its population.

We agree with Bland that Texas needs to invest in its future to remain competitive, but we believe every investment should be made carefully to ensure that it will bring a fair return.

The last thing we need to do is restore programs and services simply because they were lost to budget cuts.

We need to be prudent and take an honest look at our budgetary needs — all those cuts were painful, but they were made and the patient survived. The last thing we need now is to go right back to our old ways of doing business.

Instead, let’s give careful consideration to where the money should be spent and get the most bang for our bucks.