Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs dubbed Thursday’s town hall meeting as a way to share the “good news and bad news” about the state’s financial situation.
Combs shared her insights saying that tracking the Texas economy is as important as ever. She said the growing demand for public services, increasing regulatory burdens and an uncertain global economy are the indicators that determine what happens today and tomorrow.
“By the way, the state is doing great,” Combs said. “We have $6.2 billion dollars in a rainy day fund. The Eagle Ford Shale Oil and Gas revenues are fantastic, and the sales tax revenues are up for about 25 months in a row. All that is great, but there is another problem, and that is why we have $15 trillion right now in national debt. This is going to be extracted from our highs (budgets) unless they print more money. We also have an annual deficit at the federal level of a little over a trillion dollars.”
Combs explained there are several longterm trends that play into how Texas continues to stay debt free. She stressed these distinctive challenges need to be taken into serious consideration, which includes state budget writers contending with rising costs and a growing population. Combs said that enrollment in Texas Medicaid is projected to increase in 2014 when the eligibility requirements are changed, and uninsured Texans would be required to purchase coverage or sign up for government-funded coverage.
“Medicaid was about 14 percent in 2001, which was part of general revenue spending,” Combs said. “And what is general revenue? That is the money that you pay in taxes here, it’s not federal income tax. Public education at that time was 44.9 percent, and all other spending was 41.1 percent (higher education, roads, water, criminal justice, etc.).”
Tens years later, Combs added that Medicaid percentages grew to 20.2 percent, which compressed public education. She then continued by saying projections for 2023 are even more out of skew.
“Here is the really scary thing,” Combs said. “In 2023 Medicaid is projected to be 37.2 percent, which is over a third of all state general revenue spending, which has compressed the other areas. And Medicaid has generally been a reflection of some economic circumstances.”
Combs continued by saying that right now 3.5 million Texans are on Medicaid, but because of the Affordable Care Act, that will double to an estimated 6.2 percent.
“We have a lot of young people in Texas having babies and an aging population, but it wouldn’t do this (points on graph to how percentages double). This is directly a reflection of a federal piece of legislation,” she said.
Public education spending
As Combs continued sharing her insight, she stressed that this unbalanced budget situation will force Texas to look at its spending. One of the areas where compression is extremely evident is public education.
“I’m a big fan of public education, but I want all of the money in the classroom,” Combs said. “What that means is that we’re going to probably have to be more creative and innovative, because of the pressures on the national debt and the pressure from Medicaid.”
Public school spending has outpaced student enrollment and inflation growth in Texas, so it will take some maneuvering to get a grip on the budget crunch, Combs said.
“People are trying to deliver the best educational product for the least money,” she said. “But across the state, we’re seeing the expenditures rise, and my concern is this cliff (Medicaid enrollment rising) is coming in about two to three years. What this means is we’re going to have to locally take a look at how cities and counties spend their money.”
Texas local outstanding debt
Texas local governments rank high for debt compared to their counterparts in other large states. Combs continued by adding that the per capita debt load reached almost $8,000 in fiscal 2009 as cities, counties, school districts and other entities sold debt to finance spending, primarily on facilities and infrastructure.
“In debt outstanding, we are next to New York,” Combs said. “And California is after us. You may have seen the stock market talking about Greece. It along with Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Ireland have all had extremely serious problems – they all spent too much and don’t have the revenue coming in. That contagion from Europe, that unwillingness and be willing to be collaborative is causing them trouble.”
Combs said that because there is a rainy day fund and there is rational spending within our state, Texas hasn’t found itself in the position that those governments are facing.
Keeping Texas first
Texas is blessed with natural resources that have greatly benefitted the state’s industry and economy Combs explained. Because of these resources the state comptroller wants to make sure that increasing regulatory proposals are evaluated, in turn protecting the interests of landowners, businesses and communities.
“This is one of those things that just when you think you’re safe, the federal regulatory framework comes in,” Combs said. “We take a look at the Clean Air Act, the water act and endangered species act. We distinguish what species might be endangered in your county.
Another focus that Combs keeps connected to revolves around how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews threatened and endangered species listings and proposed listings in every Texas county.
“Your endangered species for Ellis County are the Louisiana Pigtoe (mussel), Sprague’s Pipit (bird) and the Western Chicken Turtle,” Combs said. “I want all of you to be aware of this because it does play into what balances our world.”
As Combs and her office work to keep key areas in the forefront of communities like these in Ellis County, she said that the state’s enduring success would not be possible without the people who call these cities home.
“I’m doing these town halls because things are going to happen not to far in the distant future,” she said. “But as you’re running your cities, you’re running them as a business. You need to ask yourself, do we have enough in reserve, do we know all of our expenditures, and are we being careful are we diversifying? That’s what we (Texas) did because we really lost our shirt in the 1980’s and the state of Texas diversified. We are now as an economy more diverse than Canada and Mexico. What is it they say, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ We are the best state.”
When the meeting drew to a close, Waxahachie Assistant City Manager Michael Scott, along with Mayor Buck Jordan presented Combs with a key to the city. State Rep. Jim Pitts was also on hand for this presentation, and he was pleased that his good friend and legislature cohort was being recognized for her efforts.
“Back in 2003 I met this awesome, tall and most of all smart young woman,” Pitts said. “She taught me so much, and at that time we, the freshman, were officing in the insurance building, which is on the capital grounds. I always tried to time my leaving my office when I’d see Susan leaving, and we would walk to the capital together.”
Pitts added that Combs would outline what was going to be on the floor of the House of Representatives that day, highlighting what was important.
“She would tell me this one is going to be a bill, and I think she was the only one that I ever met that was a state representative that knew everything about each bill that we had on the floor, even the insignificant ones,” Pitts said.
Last month, Combs endorsed Pitts as he decided to run for re-election to House District 10.
“It is an honor to endorse my long-time friend and former colleague, Jim Pitts,” Combs said. “Together, we have worked hard to spread our conservative message and the importance of fiscal responsibility in the state of Texas. We will have difficult issues to face next legislative session, and we need his leadership back in Austin to continue that work and to keep Texas on the right path.”
For more information on the insights Combs shared regarding the trends fueling the state, check out www.KeepingTexasFirst.org. This website provides information on the ongoing status of endangered species listings and other federal environmental actions affecting our state.
Another website, www.TheTexasEconomy.org is a comprehensive guide to the economic forces shaping the nation’s fastest growing large state. For more detailed statistics on the Texas economy, checkout the comptrollers website at www.TexasAhead.org
Contact Colleen at 469-1452 or firstname.lastname@example.org