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An $8.8 Billion Bonanza? State Reveals Budget Surplus

Shelley Kofler

Budget analysts are warning lawmakers not to get too carried away by the comptroller’s announcement today that Texas has an $8.8 billion budget surplus.

State Comptroller Susan Combs says the Legislature, which opens its session Tuesday, will have $101.4 billion for general spending over the next two years. That's 12 percent more money than it had for the two-year budget that ends in August .

Combs credits an uptick in the sales tax revenue, motor vehicle sales and oil and gas production.

"The economic picture is for continuing expansion as the fast growth period of an economic recovery gives way to a moderate sustained growth," she says.

But Combs warns that any number of things could cause Texas’ economic growth spurt to sputter: the rocky financial picture in Europe, a slowing Chinese economy or a failure to rein in federal spending.

Former state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, now with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, has served as chief budget writer in the House. He urges lawmakers to be cautious in their spending.

Dick Levine with the Center for Public Policy Priorities agrees that the surplus isn't a windfall. Levine’s organization advocates for low income Texans, and he says the amount of money available isn't enough to cover the level of services the state provided before the recession.

Levine says lawmakers need to look for new revenue. He says eliminating some tax exemptions that have been on the books for a long time might be an option, though convincing conservative lawmakers to do that would be tough.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.