What's more, TYC requires investments in smaller facilities, special education, and expanded mental health services, while the Legislature has underinvested in free-world mental health services, in particular, in ways that direly impact the justice system. And that doesn't even begin to address problems at state mental hospitals, state schools for the mentally retarded, nor poor quality public schools which consciously channel their failures into the justice system.
The Legislature's $200 million investment in prison diversion programs in 2007, which staved off the state's short-term need for new prison construction, is a prime example how, for many dilemmas facing Texas justice, functional solutions require short-term investments to prevent even greater future costs. But when there's just no money for those investments, that can be hard to accomplish.
So how will the tanking economy affect Texas' overall budget revenue for the 81st session (which begins January 13)? As at least an iniitial answer to that question, I was pleased to notice this Nov. 14, 2008 budget certification (pdf) from the Legislative Budget Board which reads:
(1) the estimated rate of growth of the Texas economy from the 2008-09 biennium to the 201 0-1 1 biennium is 9.14 percent;While the Comptroller could still adjust those numbers downward, particularly if oil prices continue to decline, if the LBB's projections hold (and they were made post-credit crash, fwiw), the Lege will still have quite a bit of leeway - up to $6.7 billion - for either new spending or tax reduction. (That estimate assumes a robust 9.14% growth rate over the next two years, however, that may be overly optimistic.)
(2) the level of appropriations for the 2008-09 biennium from state tax revenue not dedicated by the Constitution is $72,992,740,945 subject to adjustments resulting from revenue forecast revisions or subsequent appropriations certified by the Comptroller of Public Accounts; and therefore,
(3) the amount of appropriations that can be made for the 2010-11 biennium from state tax revenue not dedicated by the Constitution without special concurrent resolution is $79,664,277,468 subject to adjustments to 2008-09 biennial appropriations referenced in (2) above.
To the extent LBB's estimate is accurate, the Lege should set aside at least a billion of that extra capital to deal with immediate crises in the justice system: Pay hikes for prison staff and state troopers, making crime labs accountable and independent, investing to create local public defenders, expanding drug courts, treatment and re-entry programs (plus measuring their effectiveness), not to mention implementing critical innocence reforms.
These aren't the sexiest issues, but they're inarguably critical to the welfare of the state. If LBB is right and the Lege does have extra money to spend next spring, these are the public safety programs they need to prioritize.