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After Bolstering Red Tide, Tea Party Still Making Waves

Atter making their presence known during election season, the various Tea Party groups in Texas continue to steer the political agenda. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports.

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In November, Republicans rode to victory in Texas offering a familiar refrain: "no new taxes." Then the legislative session began, and the reality of cutting billions from state agencies and services set in. That's when you started to hear some in the Republican majority, especially those with a couple of legislative sessions under their belt, begin talking about ways to reduce those tax cuts.  

"There's no doubt that you know individuals who have been here multiple terms bring a perspective that younger members can't," said state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton. "And they understand that it is a period of perhaps several biennia that is required for ultimately to get where you want to get."

The third-term Republican said he wants to spend almost all of the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund to help balance the budget. And at least a couple of Republican state senators have said it's time for the state to consider finding additional revenue, like Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who has suggested increasing the gas tax.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

That hasn't made Tea Party groups, which helped Republicans sweep the state in November, very happy. "The people that were elected, they understand there will be no new taxes or they won't have a job next round," said Katrina Pierson of the Dallas Tea Party. Pierson also serves on a statewide advisory commission that meets with lawmakers from the newly created Tea Party Caucus.

"There was a lot of talk that the Texas Tea Party would just go away after the elections," she said. "And I think what they're starting to understand it we are more involved than ever now."

So much so that whenever Republicans stray from Tea Party goals, they often about it. One day after Zerwas mentioned draining the Rainy Day Fund — a proposal opposed by Gov. Rick Perry and other fiscal conservatives — an e-mail sent around the state blasted him for the idea.

"They're very engaged in what's going on in their state right now, and they want their voice heard," Zerwas said. "And I always think that's a very valuable thing to us as we try to make some of the difficult decisions that exist out there."

For now, the Tea Party is still pushing its core fiscal ideals: Don't raise taxes, don't use the Rainy Day Fund, and cut the budget. And even after weeks of sometimes dramatic testimony on the effects of major budget cuts to crucial state services like public education, those Tea Party philosophies are holding firm.

"People need to understand that Texas doesn't make cuts to teachers — the districts make cuts to teachers," Pierson said. "And so when the district gets handed a budget, it's up to the superintendent and the administration to determine where those cuts go — not the Legislature."

That statement alone may be a good way to gauge the Tea Party's influence on this legislative session. Less than two days after Pierson said that in an interview, Gov. Rick Perry repeated it at a press conference at the Capitol.

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