Staff from the Office of the Governor and the Legislative Budget Board recently began public hearings on the 2024-25 Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) of state agencies, higher education agencies and institutions, state courts and judicial agencies. The state budget provides counties with funding for indigent defense, indigent health care, programs that divert individuals experiencing a mental health crisis from county jails, and other services. Many of these services are underfunded or unfunded mandates — requirements placed on counties by the state but mainly funded by county property taxes.
The budget requests from selected agencies establish the state’s baseline funding level for mandated and discretionary county programs, such as indigent defense and courthouse preservation projects. Instructions for the 2024-25 budget requests limit agency baseline requests for General Revenue funds to the sum of the amounts expended in fiscal year 2022 and budgeted in fiscal 2023. Exceptions to this limitation are amounts necessary to meet Foundation School Program and Medicaid program requirements under state law, to replace federal COVID-19 funds used to pay for public health and safety salaries in fiscal 2022, and to provide public safety, including border security. This letter includes a complete list of the exceptions. Funding requests that exceed baseline spending levels may be submitted as exceptional items. If the $27 billion surplus that Comptroller Glenn Hegar projects for the current two-year budget is available, the 88th Legislature may seriously consider funding proposals that benefit counties.
To date, only a few agencies that affect county expenditures have had budget hearings: the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and the Texas Historical Commission.
Citing jail staff turnover and overcrowding, the Jail Standards Commission is projecting an increase in management-related deficiencies in county jails during the two-year budget that begins Sept. 1, 2023. According to commission Executive Director Brandon Wood, jails are challenging environments for staff, and the pandemic made it more difficult to retain staff. Increases in wait times for transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the continuing recovery of the courts from the pandemic contribute to the jail population increase. Among the commission’s exceptional item requests are an analyst to compile data and trends on jail populations, county jail compliance and jail staff turnover, and IT equipment for field staff.
The funding request by the Texas Historical Commission of most interest to counties is the $45 million exceptional item for the courthouse grant program. According to the agency, this request would fund six full restorations, or four to five full restorations and several emergency and planning projects.
TCOLE’s funding request of $1.3 million to increase support for school marshal training and equipment may interest counties that provide law enforcement support to school districts. The ongoing budget issue for TCOLE is the declining dedicated revenue source that supports it and grants to local law enforcement agencies for peace officer continuing education requirements.
As hearings continue, we will provide updates regarding legislative funding requests of importance to county officials. Please contact Zelma Smith or the Legislative Consultant assigned to your association for more information on the state budget process.