Dewhurst Makes Budget Pitch to Senators

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst (c) goes over legislation with colleagues on the Senate floor April 18, 2011
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst (c) goes over legislation with colleagues on the Senate floor April 18, 2011

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, trying to build enough support to bring a proposed state budget up for consideration this week, appealed in writing to state senators, supporting the plan and a provision that would allow the state to spend $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to make it balance.

It takes 21 senators to bring the budget up for debate. If all the Republicans stay together, they'd still need two Democrats. But Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, voted against the budget in the Senate Finance Committee last week, raising questions about whether the Republicans are all on board. Dewhurst and Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, want to bring the budget to the full Senate on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Dewhurst indicated he had some doubts about using Rainy Day money in the budget. In his letter, he says he would have preferred using "non-tax revenue" to balance the budget, but defends the idea of drawing on the Rainy Day Fund if other money doesn't become available after the budget is approved.

Here's his letter:

Dear Senators:

I deeply appreciate the hard work the Senate Finance Committee has done to write a very good Senate budget, which I strongly support.

The Senate budget proposal does the following:

·         Funds the priorities Texans want within available revenue, without raising taxes, while making a historic $11 billion reduction from current spending

·         Adds $6 billion to the base bill to provide for the needs of our school children

·         Funds Medicaid care at the level mandated by federal law

·         Restores rates to nursing home providers to care for our most vulnerable seniors

·         Maintains prison capacity to keep criminals locked up and our streets safe

·         Increases Texas' commitment to securing our borders to $150 million

·         Provides $3 billion in voter-approved bonds for highway construction

While each of us could point to something in the budget we would change, I am comfortable with the method of finance for the budget.  On Sunday, April 17, I met with a group of Senators on Senate Finance to discuss how to close the budget.  As you know, I have preferred to use recurring non-tax revenue to balance the budget instead of the Rainy Day Fund, but we have to put the needs of Texans first.

After several hours of talking with the Senators, it was evident that they would rather use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund, rather than adopt more non-tax revenue items, and we were short about $2.8 billion to close the budget.  I feel strongly that our economy is strengthening here in Texas.  Our state revenues have grown 10.7% the first eight months of FY 2011, a $2.3 billion increase over last years’ numbers, and state revenues over the next two years should grow in excess of what the Comptroller currently estimates.

As Texas keeps growing the way it is now, we may not need much, if any, from the Rainy Day Fund.  We have certainty that our budget’s funding for our public school children and our elderly will be there.

I recommended to the Senators that we close the budget by writing a contingent appropriation of $2.8 billion based upon future additional state revenue to be certified by the Comptroller.  The Senators wanted certainty.  I suggested we write a contingent budget provision, first appropriating any increase in state revenue certified by the Comptroller up to $3 billion, but providing a back stop appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund as a short fall guarantee, meaning that any shortfall would be covered.

I am asking you to put our school children, the less fortunate, our nursing home residents, our universities, and public safety, as well as the hopes and aspirations of all Texans, first, and vote for our Senate budget.

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