How would you like to snap your fingers, and have $2.5 billion suddenly appear in your wallet?
News Radio 1200 WOAI reports that's essentially what the Texas Senate Finance Committee has done, in a controversial move which was compared by House Speaker Joe Straus to the failed Houston Energy company Enron, which collapsed due to accounting failures.
The Texas Legislature is facing a shortfall this session as it prepares to write the state budget for the last two years, mainly due to declining energy prices, and the corresponding drop in sales and severance tax revenue.But lawmakers, as usual, are facing major challenges in funding higher education, Child Protective Services, and border security.
So State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has, in Straus' words, 'cooked the books' to make an extra $2.5 billion appear in the state budget.
In 2014, voters approved Proposition Seven, which required that money from the vehicle sales taxes and other sources, be earmarked for TxDOT for non tolled highway construction.
The money, roughly $5 billion every two years, is set to be paid to TxDOT in two installments, and one installment is set to be made in August of 2019, the very last month of the fiscal year that lawmakers are currently budgeting.
"That $2.5 billion of the Prop Seven transfer can occur in September of 2019, and therefore will not count against the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 biennium," Nelson said.
That means the state is paying the money to TxDOT in the two year fiscal cycle which will be budgeted by the 2019 Legislature, not the current one. Nelson says that means that $2.5 billion will be available for general revenue expenses in the current biennium.
"It is very important that the people understand, this doesn't take away any of that transportation money," Nelson said. "This is just something the Comptroller told us is available to us."I
t is unclear how this maneuver will play in the Texas House.
"This is the Texas Legislature," Straus said. "This is not Enron."