The Big Conversation:
State budget writers should look this week to take steps toward finalizing a budget that currently seeks to gut billions from current spending levels. But the fight coming doesn’t look like an easy one for either chamber.
The San Antonio Express-News reported Saturday that the Senate version of the budget for the 2012-2013 biennium would ease up a bit on the cuts to vital services – specifically education and health care – the House proposed earlier this month. But as Pecky Fikac tells it, Senate leaders looking for non-tax revenue may have to cut spending if the rainy day fund is to remain untapped farther than what Gov. Rick Perry has already agreed to use, about $3 billion. That amount doesn’t go toward plugging the estimated $15 to $23 billion budget shortfall projected for the next biennium. Instead it’s being offered as a way to shore up the current budget cycle’s gap.
After having a meeting cancelled on Friday, the Senate Finance committee will reconvene this morning. Meanwhile, if you’re feeling nostalgic or just want a better explanation of what got budget writers in to this mess in the first place, the Tribune’s Ross Ramsey takes a look back five years to a prediction by then comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who said then that a proposed 2006 tax swap which would lower school property taxes and create a new state business tax to make up the difference. She was running for governor back then, notes Ramsey, so her predictions could have – and likely were- dismissed as nothing more than campaign fodder. According to Ramsey, “In May 2006, she wrote a letter to Perry (copying it to reporters, of course) saying the swap was ‘the largest tax increase in history and leaves the largest hot check in Texas history.’ By her reckoning, the state was raising $23 billion less with its new taxes over the first five years than it was promising in relief to property taxpayers in local school districts around the state.”
What’s the high end of that estimated deficit again?
Lawmakers in the Texas House are scheduled to vote on a proposal by state Rep. Charlie Geren that would allow people who have paid for a background check to gain access to the Capitol without being required to go through metal detectors. HB 2131 had the backing of several lobbyists, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Currently only people with a concealed handgun license are allowed to breeze by security.
Mexicans in the border state of Tamaulipas are grappling with another tragedy that has many wondering out loud “How could this happen again?” On the heels of officials finding another clandestine set of mass graves less than 100 miles from the Texas border, these holding at least 145 bodies, residents are wondering what it will take for the Mexican government to grant citizens in the war-torn country some peace of mind. The Associated Press reports that “President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday implored Mexicans to say "Ya, basta!" — Enough! — stressing that their anger should be directed at criminals and not authorities.” But that could be a hard sell for residents of the northern state that witnessed the unearthing of 72 migrants just last summer.