2023 marked a year that was comprised of Texas’ 88th regular Legislative Session, four subsequent special legislative sessions, a failed impeachment trial of Texas’ Attorney General, record irresponsible spending of taxpayer money, crony corporatism, and so much more.
We have attempted to cover them all, but if we had to choose, below you will find some of the biggest stories related to fiscal (ir)responsibility this year:
Historic Budget Surplus
In the months leading up to the 88th Legislative Session, it became apparent that Texas state lawmakers would face a record budget surplus (i.e. over-collected taxpayer money) and have to decide on how best to allocate those taxpayer resources. As time ticked closer to the legislative session itself, the surplus estimate continued to get revised to an even greater number presenting an opportunity for Texas taxpayers to see not only tangible property tax relief but also perhaps a path to the elimination of the immoral property tax altogether.
That opportunity unfortunately was squandered.
Largest Spending Increase in Texas History
Much to the dismay of Texas taxpayers, state lawmakers collectively used the opportunity presented by the record budget surplus to usher in the largest spending increase in Texas history. This action left less available for tangible property tax relief, and all but assuredly means that in the next legislative cycle, the 2024-25 budget will serve as the new baseline or starting point for lawmakers in their efforts to continue to grow the size and scope of government.
Corporate Welfare Revival
To make matters worse, state lawmakers approved legislation giving property tax abatements to large corporations before property tax cuts for everyday Texans.
In the previous legislative cycle (2021), lawmakers chose to end the Chapter 313 tax abatement program as it had grown onerous. In this legislative session, they chose to revive it, without also simultaneously ensuring that the local government jurisdictions that issue such abatements cannot seek that missing revenue from elsewhere (i.e. individual property taxpayers), thereby increasing the tax burden on those who do not qualify for such an abatement. It is non-sensical.
Second Largest Property Tax Cut
Despite having a record budget surplus and an opportunity to provide record property tax cuts and a viable path to the elimination of the immoral property tax, lawmakers could not agree on the best way to provide property tax relief in the regular legislative session. In fact, they did not come to an agreement until the second-called special legislative session in July, and even then, they squandered the opportunity in front of them. Though property taxpayers will likely see some tax relief, it is not near what could have been provided if lawmakers took the issue seriously.
Failure of School Choice Efforts
Though the issue of school choice and parental empowerment was made an emergency item by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as a part of his State of the State Address in February, the legislature failed to implement an Education Savings Account (ESA) program by the time the session concluded, having found the issue dead on arrival in the Texas House of Representatives.
Abbott vowed to bring the issue back up for consideration and did so during the third and fourth special legislative session this Fall. Though there appeared to be additional steam in support of the effort by some lawmakers, the issue once again failed in the Texas House as both Democrat and rural Republican House lawmakers coalesced to ensure its demise.
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) has long been in support of school choice and finds it troubling that lawmakers are attempting to choose a path of also wanting to simultaneously provide even more money, to the tune of billions of dollars, to government schools alongside those efforts. In the wake of the demise of school choice legislation in the most recent special legislative session, Gov. Abbott has waded into the primary elections to take place in the Spring of 2024. It is so far unclear how successful those efforts to oust incumbent lawmakers standing in the way will be.
Looking back, and Looking Forward
As we reflect on the events of 2023, it’s clear that Texas faced a year of significant fiscal and political challenges. From the record budget surplus to the largest spending increase in the state’s history, the actions taken by lawmakers have set a new course for Texas’s future. The revival and expansion of corporate welfare, the missed opportunities for substantial property tax relief, and the stalled efforts on school choice illustrate an uphill battle for Texas taxpayers and their families.
As we look ahead to 2024, the political and fiscal landscape in Texas remains dynamic. The upcoming primary elections and the next legislative session will undoubtedly bring new challenges and opportunities.
It’s up to all of us to ensure that the voices of Texas taxpayers are heard, and that the path forward aligns with the principles of fiscal responsibility and good governance.
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