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Travis County could benefit from new state funding proposal

Monday, April 18, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners’ Court got a rare bit of (relatively) good budget news at its meeting on Tuesday. According to staff, the latest version of the Texas House’s budget bill would save the county roughly $2 million over a previous edition of the legislation. However, that figure still leaves county officials to deal with just under $5 million in state cuts.


Commissioners heard those numbers as part of their weekly briefing from Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Deece Eckstein. There, Eckstein also told the court about a series of 27 House bills that would alter the way state funds are appropriated.


“What (these bills) essentially do is change the process by which legislation which used to create a stream of revenue and dedicate that stream of revenue to some purpose … now says ‘We’re going to create a stream of revenue and then we’re separately going to decide whether or not to appropriate any of that revenue,’” he said.


The new budget figures largely stem from a wide-scale restoration of funding for adult probation programs. In an early version of the document, the House cut funding for over-18 court supervision programs by roughly 20 percent. County estimates put Travis’ loss from those cuts at nearly $2.4 million.


The new committee substitute version of the state budget reduces across-the-board adult probation cuts to 7.3 percent. Thanks to that, the corresponding county loss is now just under $1 million.


Other House restorations to state funding include the resuscitation of the repair and replacement incentives program for low-income individuals with vehicle emissions problems. That action would return almost $500,000 to Travis County.


According to Eckstein, the Texas Senate is still working on its version of the budget. Senators could restore an additional $5 billion in state funding. Eckstein told the court that the Senate document could be on the floor in two weeks.


In any case, he notes, nothing will be final until the House and Senate get together. “It will remain to be seen what happens in the conference committee,” he said. “That’s really where the actual deals are going to be made.”


Eckstein noted that, if the series of appropriations changes pass, the legislature “may or may not appropriate (revenue) to the purpose for which the revenue has been collected.”


He cited the monthly salary bumps that state employees get according to their length of service as an example. “The state now collects money from different fees that people pay when they go to court in order to help pay for longevity pay,” he said. “But one of these bills has a provision in it that says that the longevity pay that assistant district attorneys or assistant county attorneys get is only in the amount that is set by the legislature.”


Eckstein said that, should the collection of bills pass, it would cause a measure “of (fiscal) uncertainty on a biennial basis.”

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