DALLAS — A Texas Senate subcommittee charged with finding billions of dollars in new, non-tax revenue has apparently located $5.5 billion that could be used to soften budget cuts that currently total $23 billion.
The options include more rapid tax collections, increased traffic fines, deferring a sales tax holiday during lean times, and the sale of some property.
However, the Senate plan also includes more than $1 billion of revenue from what could be considered new or increased taxes. Gov. Rick Perry has said he would veto any bills that balance the fiscal 2012-2013 budget by using new taxes.
The House has passed a $164.5 billion budget for fiscal 2012-2013 that reduces spending by more than 12% from the current biennium, which ends Aug. 31. Budget proposals in the Senate provide total spending of approximately $177 billion.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, had called a meeting of the Committee on Fiscal Matters for Thursday afternoon to unveil the proposed revenue package, but then abruptly cancelled the session.
The proposal was posted Thursday night on the web page of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an anti-tax group. Michael Quinn, a blogger for the group who obtained the document, called the proposal “budget mirrors and fiscal smoke.”
Duncan said the document contained available options, not final recommendations. He said the committee will release a final report this week.
Proposals include speeding up the collection of state fuel, franchise, and sales taxes for $1.5 billion, liquidation of the permanent public health fund for $590 million, and the release of 3,000 non-violent, non-citizen offenders in the prison system who would be immediately deported, for a savings of $111 million.
Deferring the August sales tax holiday for the next two years would raise an additional $112 million.
Mike Walz, a spokesman for Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst, said the list of proposals was developed by the Legislative Budget Board at Duncan’s request. Walz said the list was a starting point for discussion on the budget.
“Over the next few weeks, we’ll see some of these ideas catch fire,” Walz said. “Other new ideas will be added, and others will just fizzle out.”
Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he expected budget negotiations between the House and Senate to restore some of the spending cuts in the House bill that he authored.
Pitts said House members would be reluctant to go along with increased spending, “but the reality has already set in” on proposed cuts to public education and health care programs.
“We’ve heard from our constituents,” Pitts told reporters. “We’ve heard from the public school teachers, we’ve heard from the superintendents, and we’ve heard from the nursing homes.”
“I’m not going to tell you we’re not going to have cuts in every area of our budget, but we’ll be able to soften some of that,” he said.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, declined to discuss specifics of how the state’s 2012-2013 spending will be financed until the Senate develops a comprehensive budget bill.
“I’m not ready to tell you how I’m going to pay for the budget because the budget hasn’t been written yet,” he said. “I think that negotiations are likely and possible with the House.”