The state ought to slow down proposals to expand the Governor's Mansion, House Speaker Joe Straus said in the inaugural TribLive event this morning, creating an obstacle to an idea endorsed by First Lady Anita Perry that has stirred historic preservationists in Texas.
"I would ask them to put it on hold," he said, in an interview before about 220 people at the Austin Club.
"I'm a little uncomfortable with the process of approving projects years after they're completed," said Straus, the newest member of the State Preservation Board. That panel recently approved renovation of the House members' lounge — a project that was completed before last year's legislative session.
State officials are looking at three different plans to expand the private quarters at the mansion as part of the renovation of that building — work forced by arson that almost destroyed the building. Gov. Rick Perry hasn't endorsed the expansion as his wife has, and the issue has split historic preservationists.
Straus covered a lot of ground in the interview, talking about changing chiefs of staff (announced earlier this week); saying he won't oppose the reelection of any House incumbent, Democrat or Republican; saying he agrees with Tea Party activists on some issues, such as their opposition to the rapid growth in federal spending and deficits; joining with other state leaders on a call to state agencies to show what a 5-percent cut in state spending would mean to programs; and on troubles in the state budget in general.
Straus said he hopes to hold and increase the Republican's 77-73 majority in the Texas House, but said he won't campaign against any incumbent Democrats. He mostly ducked questions about the GOP primary for governor between Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, joking about "my lack of interest in executive branch politics."
He said next year's redrawing of legislative and congressional districts should be less contentious than 2003, with its histrionics and Democratic runs to Oklahoma and New Mexico. "Don't look to me to bend over for the Democrats, but I certainly want to be fair," he said.
He didn't call himself a Tea Party Republican, but didn't run away from that movement's politics. He's frustrated with Washington, too, he said. And he was critical of the form health care reform has taken: "They would be well-advised to look at some of the polls — this is a very unpopular program... there's something wrong with that plan."
The next state budget will be tight. Straus pointed to a newly formed special committee — headed by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton — that will look at the state's financial situation. He didn't commit to spending Rainy Day money, to particular budget cuts, or to any revenue increases. It's all under study, he said. It takes a two-thirds vote from each chamber of the Legislature to spend Rainy Day funds, and he said that will slow down attempts to raid that piggy bank.