Fees, Charges and Out-of-Pocket Expenses Impact on Texans' Lives and Livelihoods
After receiving numerous inquiries from Texans about out-of-pocket expenses for teachers, health care providers, children and businesses, I instructed my staff to analyze these "non-tax" revenue increases.
One of my responsibilities as the state's chief fiscal officer is to track and account for new and increased state fees and other factors affecting state finance. September 1 was a red-letter day because much of the legislation from the regular session of the 2003 Texas Legislature went into effect.
Much of the work of this year's legislative session was concerned with HOW to balance the budget. That question has been answered. Now, I believe it is time to answer the question of WHO pays for balancing the budget.
As the fiscal watchdog for our taxpayers, I want Texans to know who's picking up the tab and how much that tab will be.
While the Legislature made significant reductions in many services in their efforts to find a way out of what was a tough budget situation, they also enacted a series of new laws that will increase fees, charges and other out-of-pocket expenses for many Texas citizens and businesses.
These costs that helped balance the budget will have a lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. I believe in government in the sunshine, no hidden agendas and telling it like it is, and I don't want anyone being surprised when their out-of-pocket costs for health care increase, when everyone from nurses to plumbers to electricians pay higher professional fees and when granddad has to pay more to go to the lake to fish.
These new fees, charges and out-of-pocket expenses run the gamut. For example, CHIP premiums and co-pays will rise over the next two years, pushing the cost for the program to participants up by $57.9 billion.
I am reporting to Texans the impact on their pocketbooks, and I am providing the agencies, Web sites and phone numbers that people should refer to for more information.
I organized the changes in broad categories, with four critical areas affecting Children, Teachers and School Employees, Business and Professions, and Health Care.
The total for all fees and assessments for which we have estimates is $2.7 billion over the next two years--2004-05. I should also point out that there is a list of other items that will have a cost but which cannot be estimated at this time.
The largest single item of new cost to Texans on the list will fall on teachers and other public school employees. In the 2001 session, the Legislature approved a $1,000 per year payment to teachers and other school personnel to help cover the cost of insurance coverage. That amount was cut in half to balance the budget. This alone represents a $711.2 million reduction in teachers' and school employees' take home pay over the next two years.
Retired and active teachers will also see higher costs for their insurance co-pays and premiums, and active teachers will pay a higher contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System to cover health care for retired teachers. Combined with the reduction of the supplement, the share of the state budget reductions borne by school folks will total $1.1 billion in the next two years.
While these fees, charges and out-of-pocket expenses are not new taxes adopted by the Legislature, these dollars are still coming out of hardworking Texans' pockets.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn