State Capital Highlights

AUSTIN’If you’re a state employee hoping for a sizable pay raise, don’t go out and order that new bass boat just yet. For that matter, anyone with a stake in state spending’highway contractors to heads of state agencies’needs to wait until the proverbial chickens hatch. The 2002-2003 biennial revenue estimate released last week by the Comptroller shows the state budget is going to be even tighter than expected. Texas should collect $106.8 billion in revenue from all sources during the biennium and other million dollar tidbits should raise the total kitty to about $109 billion. But of that amount, more than 40 percent is already dedicated for major items like schools, highways and various federal programs. After that, the available portion of the pie just gets smaller and smaller. The difference between what is available and what needs to be spent to support existing state programs is $1 billion. That seems like a lot until $700 million in unexpected costs is subtracted. Bottom line, at least the bottom line at this early stage of the legislative session, is only $300 million left for new programs. Those new programs would be anything any agency has asked for above the last budget, such as pay raises for state workers, additional employees, construction, whatever. The economic picture Lost in the news coverage of the overall revenue picture was another element of the Comptroller’s report’the 2002-2003 state economic outlook. The report declared Texas’ economy “by general measures healthy” but said the economy has slowed “consistent with recent national trends.” Texas’ gross state product (GSP) will drop from a 6 percent annual growth rate to 5 percent this year and 4 percent during the 2002-03 biennium. In other words, Texas will be enjoying less of more. The economy still will be growing, just not as fast. Of course, if government economic analysts were right all the time, they should be making millions in the stock market, not working for the state. The report does note that at least three things could have an adverse affect on Texas’ economy in 2002-2003: High oil prices (with a negative impact on the transportation industry and the general public); weakness in the European community’s euro; and any miscalculation by the Federal Reserve in its tweaking of interest rates. While these are potential problems, the report concluded, “the probability of any of them seriously impairing state economic growth over the next three fiscal years remains fairly low.” What’s the number for 911′ Anyone who’s ever called a government agency knows that the first person to answer the phone usually doesn’t know anything about what you’re interested in. In the not-too-distant future, however, it’s going to be easier to get helpful governmental information by dialing one three-digit number. Someday, in addition to existing 411 and 911 services, citizens will be able to call 211 for non-emergency health and community services information or 311 for non-emergency local governmental services. If funding is made available, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will coordinate the 211 community services program.

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