Perry, Dewhurst, Straus aiming for "tax relief" in lieu of restoring cuts


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 7:13 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- After a gavel and a check of the role, the order of business on day two of the 83rd Texas Legislature included rulemaking, meeting new neighbors and settling in.

Lawmakers can't actually start deliberating on legislation until after the first 60 days of session, with one exception: The governor can declare an issue an emergency item in order to get that process started early.

The 82nd Texas Legislature began in January 2011 with Governor Rick Perry laying out a list of emergency items on the first day, including legislation to outlaw "sanctuary cities" for illegal immigrants.

Joined Wednesday by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker State Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), the governor told media this session that there's no rush.

"If there are issues that we think are important enough to rise to the level of an emergency from the standpoint of the state, you all will be some of the first to know about that," Perry said. "But the idea that we've got some long list of emergency items already made up is not correct."

With nearly $30 billion more in projected revenue this session, the governor and leaders of both chambers announced their goal will not be increased spending. Instead, the focus will be on some form of "tax relief," but provided few details as to exactly what that may include.

"The idea that we're ready to lay out a piece of legislation that we're going to lower this tax or do this or what have you is a little premature," Perry said.

"We're taking a look at how we can reduce some of the business taxes, maybe things we can do with property tax and our homestead exemptions," Dewhurst said. "But this is all way premature and we are simply looking at different ideas."

The session's biggest fight may be over funding education.

Dewhurst suggested schools would get more resources but said it's too early to talk about a specific dollar amount when it comes to funds.

"There's no reason for us to get into a dialog back and forth what that number should be because we've 400 or 40 percent of our school districts that sued us," Dewhurst said. "So we're going to have one or more courts tell us what is the right number to put in and we'll put it."

"I think under any scenario, over the last decade the funding that we have seen in the State of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal," said Perry. The governor suggested that before the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education last session, funding had outpaced enrollment growth significantly.

"We have a phenomenally huge state with phenomenal need, and we have consistently over the years been toward the bottom in terms of our funding of public education and expenditures per pupil," said State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin).

Texas Democrats said last session's cuts are part of the reason for the extra $8.8 billion left over from the 82nd Texas Legislature and argue the cuts were burdensome and unnecessary.

"I think any of the indicators you see show that we are not producing the outcomes that we want," said Howard. "We know that if we want to have an educated workforce pipeline and have the jobs for the future we have got to invest in education. So it may have grown a lot, but it needs to grow even more."

The battle lines already being drawn for a budget storm soon to come.