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Rick Perry and the End of Another Legislature Session

In Politics, Texas Politics on May 30, 2007 at 2:09 pm

Texas Flag and Come and Take It

Mr. GQ and his reactions about the ending legislative session…

From today’s Austin-Statesman:

80TH LEGISLATURE

Perry gives mixed reaction to session

Governor says session had ‘good, bad and the ugly.’


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, May 30, 2007Gov. Rick Perry chided lawmakers Tuesday for a lack of “accountability and budgetary honesty” in their plans to balance the state’s books over the next two years and for not using a state surplus to further cut taxes.

On the other hand, Perry praised the Legislature, whose 2007 session ended Monday, for increased spending on state parks, college financial aid and law enforcement near the Texas-Mexico border. But he questioned how they got there.

Harry Cabluck/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gov. Rick Perry, at left with Mike Morrissey, his director of budget planning and policy, said he would campaign this fall for voter approval of bonds to create a $3 billion cancer research fund.

“Generally speaking, it’s not the investments made in the budget that concern me,” Perry said. “It’s the charades; it’s the accounting sleights of hand; it’s the budgetary wizardry that gives me pause, especially with the state awash in revenue.”

Comptroller Susan Combs reported in January that state revenue would grow by $14 billion over the next two years. Lawmakers used much of that money to correct accounting tricks used to balance previous budgets, to increase spending on education and health and human services, and to set aside $2.5 billion to hold down property tax rates in two years.

Perry said he hoped to avoid a special legislative session but did not rule out calling one. He also said he wouldn’t blame Texans for having a bad taste in their mouths about the session, alluding to a bitter fight in recent days over whether the House should vote on removing Speaker Tom Craddick.

“I’d hoped that with a strong economy and a record budget surplus, that we could see greater unity this session,” Perry said. “Instead, we saw continued discord. I’m glad that legislators are leaving town so there is time for the wounds to heal.”

Perry focused his comments on the most important legislation of the session, a $153 billion state budget, which lawmakers passed Sunday.

His critique capped a session in which the Republican governor and the Republican-led Legislature weren’t exactly soulmates.

Lawmakers blocked his order for schools to vaccinate girls against the human papillomavirus, and they loudly assailed the actions on toll roads by the Texas Department of Transportation, which is headed by Perry appointees.

Perry counted additional tax cuts among the Legislature’s unfinished business, along with legislation that aims to limit how much tax bills can increase when property values go up.

Along with the $2.5 billion left unspent in general state revenue, the new budget will allow an unusually large sum — more than $4 billion — to collect in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Perry also criticized lawmakers for not spending enough on an incentive pool for colleges and universities to boost their graduation rates. And he criticized the late addition to the budget of millions of dollars in so-called special items, or programs at specific schools.

The influx of special items into the budget stalled negotiations between the House and Senate in the closing days.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who heads the Senate, and House Speaker Tom Craddick defended the budget.

Dewhurst called it a “good, fiscally conservative budget” that cuts $7 billion a year in local school property taxes, gives teachers a pay raise, expands health insurance for children from low-income families and eliminates a surcharge on phone bills starting in the 2009 budget year.

Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said the budget “has strong bipartisan support, and it meets the needs of Texans while leaving almost $7 billion on the table for future funding issues.”

As for the tax cuts Perry called for, Dewhurst said, the Legislature should first see how much money the state’s new business tax will generate. Lawmakers approved that tax in 2006, but it will not be paid until 2008.

Perry applauded the push to create a $3 billion cancer research fund using bonds and said he would campaign for voters to approve it this fall.

“We will look back at this session as the linchpin in the fight against cancer with investments that one day could lead to a cure,” Perry said.

How Gov. Rick Perry’s agenda fared

The governor laid out dozens of initiatives at the beginning of the session. Here’s what happened to some of the most prominent:

Proposal Outcome
Sale of state lottery Dead
Multibillion-dollar
cancer research fund Proposal headed
to voters
HPV vaccine order Dead
Increase college financial aid Got $145 million
$360 million in incentives for universities
that graduate students on time Got $100 million
Additional property tax relief/
tax rebate Dead
Designate future reservoirs
to supply water Done
$100 million for border security Done
Create fund (with Medicaid dollars)
to pay private health insurance
for working poor Partly done
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