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Straus Says Fix, Don't Ditch, Enterprise Fund

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is straying from the Republican crowd on the what to do with the Texas Enterprise Fund.

House Speaker Joe Straus is shown on Sept. 20, 2014, during an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus strayed from the Republican herd Thursday, signaling his support for keeping the Texas Enterprise Fund to seed economic development despite a recent scathing audit of the fund's oversight.

“These programs need reforms and they will get them,” Straus said. “Many say we should just eliminate them entirely, and that would be understandable, but at the same time Texas doesn’t compete for jobs in a vacuum. Other states aren’t going to stop recruiting employers.”

Critical of Gov. Rick Perry’s handling of the fund, Straus told the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association he wants to reinforce accountability of the programs that are meant to be deal-closing incentives that bring business to the state.

“As the governor’s office has distributed economic development dollars, not all of these processes have been followed and not all promises have been kept,” Straus said. "Many of the problems that were found by the state auditor occurred in the early days of these programs, before most members of the House who are currently serving were even elected.”

Straus' stance puts him at odds with his almost-certain counterpart in the upper chamber, GOP lieutenant governor nominee Sen. Dan Patrick, who has called for ditching the fund he called "government handouts" in September.

It also puts Straus closer to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sen. Wendy Davis, who supports the fund, than Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott, who has stated more vaguely that “government should not be in the business of picking economic winners and losers,” and that the programs needed to be evaluated for effectiveness.

Straus' comments seem to echo comments by Davis that called for greater oversight and improvement of the program rather than its elimination.

“There is much more to economic development than cash incentive and tax breaks. Businesses considering a move to Texas also want to know that we have the skilled workers to fill those jobs,” Straus said. “They want to know that we have the infrastructure and the water that they need to operate their businesses. And they want to know that Texans support the arts, and culture and parks and other factors that enhance the quality of lives of their employees.”

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