Public Ed advocates question Perry's Texas Budget Compact


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 16 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Governor Rick Perry's return to Texas politics began with a familiar boast.

"Keeping taxes low is an essential part of what's made Texas the best place in the country to live, work, and raise a family," Governor Perry said at a media event Monday in Houston. "And that's not going to change on my watch."

Despite good news of rising sales tax receipts, Perry warned that Texas can't afford to loosen its belt now. His Texas Budget Compact announced Monday effectively lays the groundwork for the 2013 budget session with a five-point plan.

"What I'm calling for is really quite simple," said Perry.

The plan's first point concerns ending the process of delaying payments to the next legislative session, noteworthy after the legislature failed to fully fund Texas' Medicaid obligation for the current biennium.

Perry also called for limiting spending growth to population growth, opposing new taxes or tax increases, keeping the state's Rainy Day Fund under lock and key, and eliminating "wasteful and redundant" government programs and agencies.

Texas Public Policy Foundation Center for Fiscal Policy director Talmadge Heflin issued a statement Monday praising the compact.

"There are few matters more central to our state's continued prosperity than a fiscally responsible budget that continues the work of reducing state spending begun in 2011. Today's announcement is a solid first step in that direction." said Heflin.

Perry's proposal was also backed by endorsements from conservative groups including Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Americans for Prosperity.

"We are excited about the budget proposals that Governor Perry is putting forth,” AFP director Peggy Venable said in a statement. “The most important promise in this compact is that it limits government growth to the growth of population and inflation, and that’s just good common sense."

Texas Democrats responded with attacks condemning the compact as likely to further cripple agencies and programs that have already been drastically downsized.

"Perry is calling on his fellow Republicans to commit to permanently underfunding public education and human services. He’s leading Texas into a race for the bottom that jeopardizes the future of both our children and our parents," Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie said in a statement.

As the next session approaches, of greatest concern for many is what the next budget may mean for Texas schools, many of which continue to struggle after massive cuts to public education in 2011.

"I can tell you that people that care about public education, and I'm not just talking about teachers, I'm talking about parents and people who volunteer at the schools, they're fed up," Brock Gregg, director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), told KVUE Monday.

In anticipation of more cuts, the organization, which advocates for more than 116,000 members, has put together a public survey listing candidates' positions on education online.

Gregg argues that without better education funding Texas will be unable to provide enough skilled workers to continue to attract quality businesses to the state.

"If we don't start investing in our future, and that means our students, then we're not going to be ready to keep those companies here," said Gregg.

In a statement released Monday, Texas State Teachers Association president Rita Haecker took specific exception to the governor's commitment to refrain from reaching into the Rainy Day Fund.

"Instead of sitting on billions of taxpayer dollars left idling in the Rainy Day Fund, which is flush and growing, the governor and the legislature should be using part of that money to preserve and ensure a strong future for the public schools," Haecker said.

Governor Perry's plan may leave little room for compromise.

"Going on a spending spree here in Texas is the single worst thing that we can do," Perry said Monday.

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