Monday, January 12, 2009

State revenue will plummet, says Comptroller

The state of Texas will have $9 billion less to spend than in the last biennium, reports the Dallas News ("Texas revenue estimate down by $9 billion," Jan. 12):

Comptroller Susan Combs today estimated that Texas has about $9 billion less to spend – $77 billion – than it did two years ago.

Combs called her revenue estimate, which caps how much lawmakers can spend in the legislative session that begins Tuesday, “decidedly cautious.”

While Texas dodged many bullets in a national economic slowdown that began just over a year ago, the Republican comptroller said the state’s prosperity has cooled because of raging turmoil in financial, housing and auto markets.

“The effects of what may become the worst national recession in many decades will be too large to avoid,” she said. “The state is not immune.”

Combs said the Legislature will have $77.1 billion in state revenue to spend in the next two-year budget cycle – $9.1 billion less than the $86.2 billion in the current cycle.

That's more than a 10% estimated decline from last biennium - a lot less than earlier predictions, which suggested Texas might have up to $2 billion over and above the last biennial budget to apply toward discretionary spending. The Comptroller's final, official estimate represents a whopping $15.7 billion swing from the Legislative Budget Board's estimates in November.

On the criminal justice front, this news comes as the Department of Criminal Justice is asking for a total $1.2 billion in new spending over the next two years, including a 20% pay hike for guards to reduce high turnover rates and corruption. That's definitely in jeopardy now, as is any new agenda item with a price tag attached to it.

Perhaps this unhappy fiscal news means it's now time to seriously examine more radical possibilities being discussed in other states for reducing corrections costs?

See related Grits posts:

41 comments:

Don Dickson said...

For whatever consolation it may be worth, President-elect Obama's stimulus packages will contain something in the neighborhood of $300 billion in aid to state and local governments. But I doubt we'll glom on to $9 billion of it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well it might actually be worth a lot if it happens soon - I hadn't heard the $300 billion figure.

If Texas just got its fair share that'd be a big chunk of change.

California is $41 billion short, in New York it's $15 billion, so it's not like other states aren't already talking about big numbers.

One also wonders about the "and local" part. I don't know which Texas cities or urban counties are seeking federal handouts, or how short they might be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, can you believe these "bailout" dollar figures? Our grandkids will be paying for this spending spree (not to mention the Iraq War, all essentially done on credit cards) when they're our age.

For that reason, I'm not 100% sure I support a federal bailout of states, but pragmatically, if they do it, it will certainly affect the budget math.

Anonymous said...

Instead of a handout, how about cutt'n out.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 3:50 - see my suggestion for said budget cuts here.

Otherwise, here are the agency budgets proposed for the next biennium. Where do you suggest we cut $9 billion?

Don Dickson said...

Maybe we could save $9 billion simply by canceling the 81st Session. :-)

Anonymous said...

"Another idea comes from State Rep. Harold Dutton, who filed a bill that would significantly depopulate state jails (like the one in the way of Dallas' Trinity development) within a two year stretch: HB 287 would reduce the penalty for possession of less than a gram of illegal drugs from a state jail felony to a Class A misdemeanor."

I understand what you are saying and I'm on board with misdemeanor field citations, I'm afraid that something like this will have a trickle down effect and cause county jail populations to increase in the jailing of probation violators.

We all know that county probationers are not going to get any drug rehabilitation, but we do know they will have to pay exorbitant probation fees. And those that cannot pay who should not have been put on probation in the first place because they cannot pay, will go to jail.

Anonymous said...

"Where do you suggest we cut $9 billion?"

Each state agency head would be required to review where personnel cuts need to be made and submit. If no recommendations are made, then I would make the cuts.

Pay increases. Freeze all salaries, absolutely no pay increases.

Personnel cuts. As painful as it is, budget cuts come by way of cuts in personnel. I'm going out on a limb and saying that 89%-90% of these budgets are costs associated with salaries, overtime, retirement, holidays, vacations, etc.

Pay increases. Freeze all salaries, absolutely no pay increases.

State vehicles. I would eliminate this perk. State vehicles of any sort would not be considered a perk and would be left at the office. Someone on call would be allowed to take the vehicle home.

State aircraft. Sell and require travel by commercial airliner.

Cell phones. Require reimbursement for all personal calls.

TCLEOSE and TCJS. Since some of what both do overlap, merge into one, maybe put under DPS. No need to have an executive director for both. Travel expense by TCJS could be decreased or eliminated by requiring jails to submit reports that inspectors view at inspection.

TABC. This agency is more about tax collection. I would either abolish it all together and put under the Texas Comptroller or at a minimum would abolish the law enforcment division of this agency and leave criminal enforcment to local, county and DPS.

This could be fun and I could really grind this out if I had more time.

Pissed at Perry said...

Grits -

How much of our short comings have to do w/hurricane Ike, or is it a combination of Ike and the recession? I recall ole' Rick saying the US may be experiencing a recession but Texas is holding its own. What's the truth here?

Pissed at Perry said...

Grits -

How much of our short comings have to do w/hurricane Ike, or is it a combination of Ike and the recession? I recall ole' Rick saying the US may be experiencing a recession but Texas is holding its own. What's the truth here?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Grits about how we can help with budget cuts. It makes sense to reduce those inmates who are non-violent offenders who are parole eligible, I believe I read somewhere that 2/3 of the inmate population are non-violent offenders and alot are parole eligible. So if we can parole 1/3 of those non-violent offenders at $50 a day. That would probably cover the $ that TDC is requesting for CO pay raises. It would reduce the # of COs needed and it would also finance their raises. Sounds better than asking me to fork over more money to provide room and board for a bunch of people who can do it themselves!

I think TDC may intentionally be trying to keep all inmates in so that they can cry about how short staffed they are how it's hard to keep COs. That they NEED that money just to operate. Seems like they are trying to force us tax payers into a corner. Just my theory.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So, 6:14, let's take TDCJ as an example. They're already 3,000 guards short because pay is so low and their facilities are rural and don't draw employees. So how many would you cut to save money? And if that means you must close units because you don't have adequate staff, then where do you put the prisoners?

It's easy to say "cut staff," but it's a lot harder to do and the devil's in the details.

To 5:41 - On Dutton's bill, I agree it could dump on the jails without forethought. It would work best if they'd simultaneously pass another longstanding proposal of his to take low-level marijuana offenders out of the jails, see here.

To Pissed - to the extent these numbers aren't understated for political reasons, it's the recession, not Ike, that's driving it. Ike might drive more expenditures, but I doubt it will cut that deeply into revenue in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

"So, 6:14, let's take TDCJ as an example. They're already 3,000 guards short because pay is so low and their facilities are rural and don't draw employees. So how many would you cut to save money? And if that means you must close units because you don't have adequate staff, then where do you put the prisoners?"

There are always going be shortages in corrections people at TDCJ, just like there is in county jails, 20% pay increase or not. They are both revolving doors when it comes to retaining personnel. To believe these 3000 positions will be filled is dreaming.

To make up for these shortages, I would put the guards on a 28 day/171 hour schedule. That helps with the overtime factor as provided by FSLA. They would be assigned to 12 hour shifts and would be off three days each week. And they would get weekends off on a revolving basis which I hope in some way would improve the moral.

I would start paroling low risk offenders with no history of violent offenses and who have not been involved in any violent institutional behavior.

And it is just quite possible that some of these units might be contracted out reducing the number of state employees. I know there are pros and cons, but it is certainly worth looking at.

I don't know what the estimates are but those in prison who are illegal aliens would be immediately deported, provided they are not imprisoned for a violent felony offense.

Virtually every state agency director is asking for a pay raise. I say no. And I say no to state employees pay raises. The time is not right. If anything, personnel cuts have got be made. You don't save money by cutting a service here or a service there, you save money by cutting personnel and the associated human resource expenses.

Unlike Sunset, someone, not an elected official, with on the ground insight and knowledge of each state agency, is going to have to go in and evaluate each agency and call for cuts that have to be made. We have got to cut out the waste, which there seems no willingness to do because of fear of not being reelected. It's not an easy thing to do, but sometimes there is no choice. Someone's got to stand up and be willing to make these hard choices.

We just can't keep on growing bigger government.

Anonymous said...

One other thing, if the state uses such thing and other such as surcharges for DWI and financial responsibily violations for revenue projections, that needs to stop.

I would venture to say that most of these people cannot afford to pay these surcharges, which is a form of punishment.

Anonymous said...

"It's easy to say "cut staff," but it's a lot harder to do and the devil's in the details."

Not really, as was the case with Lone Star Steel Company in the early and mid 1980's.

Those were tough economic times and many a steelworker and salaried personnel either were laid off or lost their jobs.

Those were hard decisions that had to be made, but life went on. The company survived, without a federal government bailout I might add, and was recently purchased by US Steel. And many workers found other employment or were called back.

And because of the auto industry calamity, the specialty tubing operation of the plant will be laying off workers in the coming days.

Taxpayers should not be burdened with more government fees and taxes. Government should be willing to make the tough call and look to make cuts and eliminate waste and not look to its subjects for relief. Hard decisions then, hard decisions now.

diogenes said...

permanent 12 hour shifts for CO's? That may sound nice on paper, but that's a safety issue waiting to happen.

The devil is in the details for sure. Its easy to make sweeping statements, but some things that may seem wasteful might just be more efficient. Probably not everything by a long shot, but I'm sure there are some that pay off in the long run through preventive measures.

Anonymous said...

Obama tells Calderón he wants to 'upgrade' NAFTA

10:47 PM CST on Monday, January 12, 2009
By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News
tgillman@dallasnews.com

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama told Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Monday that he wants to "upgrade" NAFTA, serving notice that he hasn't abandoned a campaign pledge that irritated Mexico while appeasing union voters.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/011309dnpolobamamexico.72a6be.html

Whether or not we're willing to face up to it, this country's on a collision course with a 3-nation merger composed of Mexico, Canada and what used to be the United States.

Anonymous said...

"permanent 12 hour shifts for CO's? That may sound nice on paper, but that's a safety issue waiting to happen."

What data do you have to support your statement?

We've been working 12 hour shifts for years and have not had one lost time accident, both in the jail and patrol.

Anonymous said...

diogenes,

Since we already know raising taxes is off the table, how do you propose to solve the budget shortfall?

Red Leatherman said...

We can appoint a multi level committee to study the effects of implementing any budget cuts before we consider doing anything drastic. I think a grant to support the committee of something in the neighborhood of $17 billion to cover cost and donuts would be sufficient to get things started.

Don said...

There are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. You can't finagle shifts around and save overtime. Because you have a given number of hours to cover and a given number of people to do it with, it will eventually come out to the same thing. Besides, many prisons already do what you suggest with 12 hour shifts.
On reducing the class of offense of <1g to a Class A, that's fine, but there are no 1st offenders in state jail. So that just leaves the county to do something with the small-time repeat offenders, and they don't have any money either. Someone said, parole more of the non-violent offenders eligible for parole. That's the best idea I've seen on this thread.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 8:11 - Lone Star Steel could just stop producing as much steel for sale. TDCJ cannot - without drastic changes - simply stop guarding prisoners because you don't want to pay taxes.

kaptinemo said...

Well, with the fiscal writing on the wall in big block letters 20 stories tall (it's always been there, but only fiscal conservatives seemed able to see them) it might be a good time to consider just what we've already bought with the money...and never could afford to begin with. Like the DrugWar.

Some folks in El Paso are making a proposal to have a debate on continuing the DrugWar, and they're drawing a lot of heat locally and even more support nationally. As times get tighter, look to see that happen more often...

Anonymous said...

Ok. I give up. You folks don't want accountability and budget cuts, ok. Here is one more example of the waste of your tax dollars. It exists at every state agency!!!!!!!!! Keep your heads in the sand and lets make government bigger.

Texas Youth Commission defied lawmakers, spent funds on new offices

Agency shifted money earmarked for hiring new corrections officers to cover relocation expenses


02:20 PM CST on Sunday, January 20, 2008
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
eramshaw@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN – High-ranking Texas Youth Commission officials have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for hiring new corrections officers on renovating and relocating offices – even though lawmakers turned down their request for such spending.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/012008dntextyc.2d28c87.html

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I really don't know what you're talking about, 3:08. I was backing budget cuts before we ever heard from you.

As for the TYC spending you mention, the E.D. who did that was roundly criticized for it at the Lege and ultimately fired. That was an outlier, not a typical example, and in the context of a $9 billion hole in the budget, the amount involved was a pittance.

If you want to make government smaller, you can't pretend cutting it is easy. To make major cuts, you have to deal with the actual, real-world issues involved - e.g., how to guard incarcerated prisoners - or you're just wasting everybody's time.

Anonymous said...

INSTEAD OF THE BIG BAIL OUTS, GIVE EVERY TAX PAYER A 100,000 SO WE CAN PAY OUR BILLS AND THEN USE WHATS LEFT TO PUT BACK INTO THE ECONOMY I WORK FOR THE STATE AND I CANT EVEN AFFORD TO BY NEW CLOTHES.i GET PAID , PAY BILLS AND IM BROKE UNTIL NEXT MONTH TRYING TO PAY OFF A DIVORCE.

Anonymous said...

Somehting might already be in the wind. Has anyone heard about the parole board holding special hearings or pushing up parole hearing dates? Probably just rumors. Curious.

Anonymous said...

Just like in the late 80"s & early 90's when a felon was doing one month for every year sentenced, early parole will equate to county jails filling up with parole violators.

Mostly for administrative violations as is the usual case. And TDCJ won't be in none to hurry to receive them either.

Get ready local citizens to bend over and take another root'n.

Anonymous said...

Another example of taxpayers dollars wasted........



Partisan fight breaks out in Texas Senate

05:04 PM CST on Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Associated Press

AUSTIN – Just when it seemed like a lovefest would break out on opening day of the 2009 Texas Legislature, a GOP proposal to scrap filibuster rules in the Senate has sparked a bitter partisan brawl with Democrats.

At issue is the so-called two-thirds rule, which requires a supermajority of senators – 21 of the 31 members – to move legislation to the floor. Several Republican senators, complaining that Democrats have used the filibuster measure to permanently block their pet initiatives, now want to modify it.

I wish that all politics were non-party elections, like the mayoral elections in Dallas. Then, you vote on the issues, not the party. Too many morons who can't think for themselves vote the party.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/011409dntexlegesenatefight.29d5a51.html?ocp=1#slcgm_comments_anchor

Anonymous said...

I'm not racists and don't throw rocks, but no law is causing this country more damage than the one that guarantees citizenship to children born in this country regardless of the parents legal status. This anchor baby loophole guarantees at least one parent staying in our country. This has caused huge strains on hospitals, schools and other social services.

I'm certain this has some effect on the Texas state budget. What do we do to resolve it?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"early parole will equate to county jails filling up with parole violators"

That's really a bizarre claim. In the early '90s county jails filled up because of delays in SENDING people to prison due to overcrowding, not because too many were released. In this case, utilizing parole more frequently would PREVENT backlogs in county jails, not cause them.

Anonymous said...

"early parole will equate to county jails filling up with parole violators"

Well if POs and judges and who ever would quit revoking parolees on technical violations then that would eliminate some of the those things.

For example especially during this time in our country when people with no prison records, college degrees etc can't find a job or are getting laid off; how fair is it to expect a parolee to be able to find employment? Seems like a stupid stipulation to require parolees to secure employment or risk having their parole revoked.

Anonymous said...

"That's really a bizarre claim."

70% of our local recidivism during that time were either for parole violations or parolee's committing new offenses.

Yea, and don't forget Kenneth McDuff.

Get ready for a greas'n!

Anonymous said...

70% of our local recidivism during that time were either for parole violations or parolee's committing new offenses.

Now, you gotta cut us a break here. 70% is a huge number to be sure. is that 70% of all probationers? meaning 70 out of 100 were revoked? Or is that 70% out of 10 people that were revoked, out of a total population of 1000? Which would be such a small number, it is not worth reporting.

This is the problem with statistics, numbers in general, and the reporting thereof. I can say that 100% of smokers die. Ok, granted, but EVERYONE DIES. so how truthful is that statement if I do not report how many died of lung cancer?

Media and more recently the police/government have begun reporting such things as sex offenders will commit a new crime 47% of the time. The lessor known truth is that only 3 to 5 % are re-offending by creating a new victim. It is known, but not reported accurately, that sex offenders are the second lowest group of people to re-commit a crime similar to their previous conviction.

Murderers are both feared and hated. People worry about someone that committed murder and then are released from prison after doing their time. It is fact that murderers that finish their time, and released back into society are the lowest to re-commit an offense similar to their previous.

While people that drive drunk are statistically more apt to drive drunk again, unless they create a life altering situation(commit murder while driving, have an accident).

So to say that 70% blah blah blah, means nothing if you do not qualify that with the full statistic. So what was it, 70% of the whole? or 70 % of the 10 people that were revoked of the greater number of 1000 people paroled in that year?

Don said...

To Anon 5:PM. I have some suggestions for you.
1. Don't incur bills beyond your means.
2. Try to exercise more thought in spouse-picking, or perhaps just shack up and save on costly divorces.

3. Get a better job, or a second job
4. Accept some personal responsibility.
5. Learn some internet etiquette and stop SHOUT-WHINING!

Anonymous said...

Good advise Don....they probably wont pay any attention. Besides, welfare checks come to these folks anyway, regardless of what they do.

Anonymous said...

Famous Grits posts.........

If you want to make government smaller, you can't pretend cutting it is easy. To make major cuts, you have to deal with the actual, real-world issues involved - e.g., how to guard incarcerated prisoners - or you're just wasting everybody's time.
1/13/2009 03:30:00 PM

It's easy to say "cut staff," but it's a lot harder to do and the devil's in the details.

1/13/2009 06:07:00 AM

Just ask TYC staffers who lost jobs yesterday. It wasn't as hard as you thought.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RE: famous Grits posts. Three things:

First, these layoffs had already been planned, they were just delayed from last year.

Second, TYC's inmate population was bascially cut in half in the last two years. I've said all along the way to cut staff in prisons is to reduce the incarceration rate - you can't safely reduce staffing unless that happens.

Third, if you think 100 jobs will save the state $9 billion, you've got another think coming.

Anonymous said...

"Third, if you think 100 jobs will save the state $9 billion, you've got another think coming."

Yes, but it sure is a good start.

And with your logic and even though there is budget shortfall, I suppose you support the legislature raising their monthly office expense yesterday by $1000 each a month.

Give me your nickels and dimes and I will build you a mountain.

Anonymous said...

"First, these layoffs had already been planned, they were just delayed from last year."

Did the employees know this?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If they read Grits they did.