Texas considers dipping into rainy day fund

A belt around a piggy bank represents tightening one's finances and budget.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: States are wrangling with some huge budget holes. Really, the only two ways to deal with the mess are spending cuts or tax hikes. In Texas -- there's another option. Tap into the state's $9 billion "rainy day" fund.

As Ben Philpott reports from station KUT in Austin, some lawmakers don't want to touch that money.


Ben Philpott: Just about everyone admits it's "raining" in Texas. Falling tax revenue and stagnant home prices have left a hole of as much as $27 billion in the state's budget. But is it a downpour, or just a little drizzle?

The state's Republican governor Rick Perry says there's no need for an umbrella. He's pushing for budget cuts instead of opening the piggy bank.

Rick Perry: Emptying the savings account to pay for recurring expenses is a bad idea, whether it happens at home, the workforce or in our state budget. Therefore, we must protect the Rainy Day Fund.

But Democratic state representative Garnet Coleman sees hurricane warnings.

Garnet Coleman: Well first of all, I think we ought to spend all of it.

He points to proposed cuts in public education that could mean laying off tens of thousands of teachers. And don't get him started on health care cuts. He knows the tax increases being passed in other states to make ends meet aren't going to fly in Texas.

Coleman: The reason other people are raising taxes is because they don't have $9 billion sitting in an account that can be used readily.

But this isn't a debate just confined to politicians. Bill Hammond heads up the Texas Association of Business. It's considered the most powerful business lobby in the state. He says tax increases are job killers, but at the same time, the proposed cuts in K-12 and higher education don't promote the skilled workforce Texas businesses need.

Bill Hammond: We think if we're going to hold the school districts and the administration accountable for their performance on the new end of course exams and on accountability in general, we need to provide them with the materials as well to do their job.

On the bright side for Texas: at least the state can afford to have this debate. A recent report by the National Association of State Budget Officers shows 15 states started the year with no money in their rainy day funds.

In Austin, I'm Ben Philpott for Marketplace.

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