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W. Gardner Selby
By W. Gardner Selby May 15, 2015

Lawmakers sink Abbott desire to change limits on rainy day fund spending

Running for governor, Greg Abbott called for lawmakers to ask voters to change how leaders may draw on fiscal reserves.

In the 2015 legislative session, a proposal aligned with Abbott's call; appears to have sunk.

Earlier, in his "Bicentennial Blueprint" campaign tome, Abbott hearkened to the ballot language voters saw in 1988 before acting to authorize creation of the state's rainy day fund: "The constitutional amendment establishing an economic stabilization fund in the state treasury to be used to offset unforeseen shortfalls in revenue."

Under the amendment, lawmakers may appropriate money from the fund for several stipulated reasons, including anticipated dips in state revenue. Then again, as we noted in this 2011 fact check, those stipulations seemingly pale in light of a provision giving lawmakers sweeping authority, with a two-thirds' votes of the members present in each body, to "appropriate amounts from the economic stabilization fund at any time and for any purpose."

Whoa--any purpose, any time!

On his watch, instead, Abbott suggested, voters should be asked to amend the constitution to specify that other than during an immediate budget shortfall, the fund be tapped only to retire existing debt, cover one-time infrastructure projects or to pay expenses connected to a state of disaster declared by the governor.

According to legislative records, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, offered a proposal mostly along those lines. Burkett's House Joint Resolution 94, filed in February 2015, would strike the permission for legislators to spend money from the fund for any purpose. Otherwise, her proposal called for spending to be limited to retire state debt; pay costs associated with a state of disaster declared by the governor; or pay non-recurring costs of infrastructure projects.

But her proposal, which if adopted would require voter approval to land in the constitution, was referred to a House panel and subsequently not scheduled for a hearing.

The session's not over. Miracles do happen. For now, we mark this a Promise BROKEN.

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