After months of speculation, we will finally get an idea of just how big Texas' budget shortfall is when the Comptroller Susan Combs releases her revenue estimate within the next seven days. Meanwhile, a group of mostly progressive organizations has banded together to urge a "balanced" approach to closing the budget shortfall.
"The Texas Forward Coalition is a group of organizations that came together around concern about Texas' state budget, and particularly around the proposed cuts that we started hearing about earlier in 2010," Texas Forward Coalition organizer and Center for Public Policy Priorities special projects coordinator Kymberlie Quong Charles told KUT News.
"The cuts-only approach that the [state] leadership has so far been using is actually going to have much more serious outcomes for us in the future, so we're advocating for a balanced approach to balancing the budget," she said.
That includes using the Rainy Day Fund to help close a budget gap that some unofficial estimates peg at higher than $25 billion. CPPP budget expert Dick Lavine has already argued that the state should spend the entire Rainy Day Fund, currently forecast to be able to provide more than $9 billion.
The Texas Forward Coalition is also advocating "new streams of revenue", a term often used as a euphemism for tax increases. Quong Charles says they haven't endorsed any specific new revenue sources, but they are studying the idea of increasing taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, as well as extending the sales tax to cover some services.
"One of the biggest hurdles in this is the budget process is very opaque," Quong Charles said. "We're working very hard at talking to the general public via the media about the real human impact, and getting away from the numbers and talking about 'What does this mean for my family or my aging parents?'"
"We also are working with some of the largest organizations that do advocacy at the Capitol. We certainly have an advocacy strategy that involves talking to our legislators and working with them," she said.
You'll likely hear more media coverage about the Texas Forward Coalition this week. The group plans to hold a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol.