Trib CEO Evan Smith interviewed House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, at a TribLive event this morning. We'll be posting video highlights soon, but here are some of the headlines:
On the budget:
- Pitts will introduce a budget on Tuesday that assumes no new revenue, no new taxes and no use of the Rainy Day Fund (although he said it might be useful for closing the smaller shortfall the state faces in the current biennium). For those lawmakers that oppose looking for new revenue, Pitts speculated that, after they go back to their local school districts and hospital and nursing home administrators and share the details of the proposed budget cuts, they might be persuaded to reconsider that position. One thing Pitts says will surely happen: "There will be less state employees" and fewer state programs. There could also be furloughs for state employees who keep their jobs. One specific proposed cut Evan got out of Pitts is eliminating some early C-sections as a way to cut Medicaid costs (he's opposed to the state dropping out of Medicaid).
- Pitts said tweaking the margins tax to bring in the revenue it was originally predicted to provide, as Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan suggested earlier this week, would be a tax increase — and he's opposed to increasing taxes.
- Pitts is in favor of allowing the expansion of gambling but leaving the issue for local communities to decide for themselves. He would not personally want gambling in his district.
On the Tea Party:
- During the election, Pitts spent some time talking to Tea Partiers. "I heard a lot of misinformed people," he said. For example, he heard complaints about Speaker Joe Straus' voting record from the 2009 session, despite the fact that as speaker, Straus does not vote unless there's a tie.
- As for the current tenor of the political discourse, Pitts says, "I think all that will be forgotten by the end of May." Folks like those who were protesting outside the Capitol earlier this week want less government — and they're going to get it. Legislation they want, like voter ID, will be passed during the session.
On Capitol security:
- "I don't feel as secure as I'd like to feel," Pitts said. He noted he has been featured on a mass e-mail of lawmakers to be defeated with the tag line "Happy Hunting." He says he would not like to see what happened in Arizona happen in Texas.
- He supports both the existence of metal detectors in the Capitol and the policy of allowing those with a concealed handgun license to skip security.