By\u00a0Ross Ramsey\r\nAccording to the state comptroller, Texas is heading into an election year with projections that more than $24 billion will be leftover at the end of the current budget, in spite of a pandemic that began with fears that the economy might be hit as hard as public health.\r\nThat projected pile of cash gives the political class the power to grant wishes \u2014 or to propose granting wishes \u2014 for budget-busting goodies their voters want, like lower property taxes, and higher spending on public education, health care, highways, and law enforcement.\r\nA couple of weeks ago, Comptroller Glenn Hegar said\u00a0the state will bring in almost $23 billion\u00a0more in general revenue during the current two-year budget period than he originally estimated.\r\nHe\u2019s expecting the state to end the current budget period, which runs through August 2023, with almost $12 billion in the bank, and with an additional $12.6 billion in the\u00a0state\u2019s Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.\r\nIn spring 2020, Hegar was telling state lawmakers and budget writers to hit the brakes on spending and to expect an economic downturn as the coronavirus took hold. The improvement in the official outlook has been steady and dramatic since then. In each of the last seven months, the state\u2019s sales tax receipts topped $3 billion; it had only reached that monthly total three times in state history.\r\n\u201cTexas personal income, buoyed by support from federal pandemic relief spending, increased by an estimated 6.5% in fiscal 2021 following 5.4% growth in 2020,\u201d according to\u00a0the comptroller\u2019s latest projection\u00a0of state revenue. Gross state product increased 7.9% in 2021, and is expected to grow 8.3% next year, the report said.\r\nThe traditional caveat on comptroller forecasts was in the fine print: Hegar said COVID-19, supply-chain problems, inflationary pressures, and labor shortages could slow or derail the economic train.\r\nThat might as well have gone unsaid: This is the beginning of an election cycle. Candidates are filing to run for office. By this time next year, the primary and general elections will be behind us, and the newly elected and reelected lawmakers will be preparing to come to Austin to pass new laws and write a new budget.\r\nGiven the amount of money, Hegar predicts will be on hand, those incoming officeholders will be entertaining every politician\u2019s fantasy: There\u2019s money in the state treasury, and we can make big proposals without laying out new taxes or budget cuts to cover the costs.\r\nThey don\u2019t need to wait for the 2023 session to begin. Challengers and incumbents are already starting to talk to voters. Some people are concerned about inflation and other economic troubles. For instance, Hegar and others have said we are in a \u201cK-shaped recovery,\u201d where economic conditions are improving rapidly for some parts of the economy while they\u2019re getting worse for others.\r\nThe state appears to be one of the beneficiaries, a boon to anyone who wants money for one of the big-ticket items in the state budget \u2014 or on campaign wishlists.\r\nThat\u2019s not the only money piling up. Federal revenue to the state\u2019s Coronavirus Relief Fund totaled $44.1 billion in the last budget, and another $36.9 billion is expected during the current two-year budget period, according to the comptroller.\u00a0Texas expects to get $35.4 billion\u00a0from the federal infrastructure bill over the next five years, most of it for transportation spending.\r\nIt sets the table for anyone who\u2019s been stymied by a tight state budget. It\u2019s easy for budget writers to say no in lean times. When there\u2019s money in the bank, they don\u2019t have the excuse of \u201csorry, no money.\u201d\r\nDiscipline is scarcer during the political election season than during the governing season that follows. Until the general elections next November, politicians can paint the prettiest pictures they want, proposing new programs, services, tax breaks, and whatever else they and their consultants dream up. When voters ask how they\u2019ll pay for it, they\u2019ll point at those rosy projections of bulging state treasury vaults.\r\nThey won\u2019t have to do the math until after the elections.\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.