The latest state budget signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Perry is expected to leave $6 billion-plus in the state’s so-called rainy day fund, right?
Nope, says first-term state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who told the Texas Tribune for a June 24 article that while the $6 billion indeed went unspent in the 2012-13 budget, that’s not the whole story.
"We’ve got to get the message right," said Perry, who’s of no relation to the governor. "There’s been a lot of misinformation out there that there’s $6 billion in the fund that’s not been used. It’s been used."
Some background: In January, state Comptroller Susan Combs predicted the fund, formally called the Economic Stabilization Fund, would have a balance of $9.6 billion by the end of August 2013. That figure was later whittled to $6.4 billion after legislators used $3.2 billion to cover a deficit in the current budget, which runs through August.
The governor recently told a New Orleans audience that Texas lawmakers balanced the budget while leaving $6 billion in a rainy day fund--a claim we rated Half True this week because his claim didn’t acknowledge some costs that lawmakers put off paying until 2013.
"That’s the governor’s message," Rep. Perry told the Tribune. "That’s not Charles Perry the legislator’s message."
In an interview with us, the representative conceded the Republican-guided Legislature did not earmark the money expected to pile up in the fund, which has a current balance of $5 billion. But, he said, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have covered existing needs.
Rep. Perry, informing us he’s a CPA by trade, said underfunding Medicaid by $4.4 billion and postponing $2.3 billion in payments to school districts to the fiscal year starting in September 2013 amount to obligations that can’t be denied.
"It’s not accurate to say that (rainy-day) money is not restricted," he said. "We know we’re going to have to pay it."
In separate interviews, Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxhachie and Sen. Steve Ogden of Bryan, who chair the respective House and Senate budget-drafting committees, agreed lawmakers left the cited items dangling. Both cautioned, though, that much could change to ease pressures by 2013. The state’s economy could out-perform expectations, Medicaid caseloads might fall short of projections, Congress could even reduce what it expects states to chip in.
Rep. Perry reminded us those are uncertain speculations. Plus, he suggested, it’s likely "we are going to see less and less money from the feds," noting that Congress is in talks to reduce federal spending and besides, states will ultimately be expected to pick up a share of the costs of the federal health care overhaul approved in 2010.
Our take: Rep. Perry’s statement overreaches because the money projected to pile up in the fund has not been used. Still, the 2011 Legislature adjourned amid expectations that when legislators next gather, they will lean on the fund to cover $6 billion in unpaid expenses.
We rate his claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.