Posted: Jan 9, 2013 4:53 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2013 4:53 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gov. Rick Perry says the time has come for Texas to look at tax relief again. But he's not yet saying for whom or how.
Emboldened by a resurgent Texas economy, Perry on Wednesday repeated his call for the Republican-controlled Legislature to tackle tax relief this session, but didn't offer any more details than when he rolled out the goal a day earlier while ringing in a new session. The last one in 2011 began with a $27 billion budget shortfall, which left lawmakers scrambling to plug budget holes and makes talk of easing taxes now a total turnaround.
Any framework for tax relief likely won't emerge for several weeks while the most inexperienced Texas Legislature in more than four decades more than a quarter of the 150-member House are freshmen settles into the Capitol. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said homestead exemptions may get a second look, while other targets could include extending sales tax holidays and changes to the state's franchise tax on businesses.
Perry who remains mum on his future following this session, which stands to carry heavy political implications after a failed run for president seized on tax relief to again hammer at Washington following the fiscal cliff deal in Congress that raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
"What a stark contrast it can be over the next 130-plus days that Texas is sending the absolutely opposite message," Perry said. "That we're going to lower the cost, lower the burden of doing business in the state of Texas, or living in the state of Texas. That's part of the conversation that we want to have."
Welcoming that conversation are Dewhurst, who opposed tax-relief proposals in 2007 but says a rosier economic forecast now makes the timing better, and House Speaker Joe Straus.
After being re-elected Tuesday for a third term as speaker, however, Straus made clear to reporters that his top priorities are not taxes but education, infrastructure and water.
"There's going to be a call for some tax reform, maybe some tax relief somewhere. There always is," Straus said. "But there's more of a call this time, and more of an agenda that I've been trying to push, to make sure Texas can accommodate the enormous and profound growth that we've seen in recent years that will go on unabated."
Even without a concrete plan on the table, Democrats are already blistering at calls to prioritize taxes.
PERRY: NO PROMISES TO RESTORE PAST BUDGET CUTS
Gov. Rick Perry made no promises Wednesday that Texas would roll back any of the deep state spending cuts imposed during past economic doldrums, even to soften the blow of $5.4 billion in funding sliced from public schools two years ago.
The governor said there's no obligation to restore funding levels reduced the last time the Legislature convened in 2011 or those imposed amid the depths of the national recession before that, even as a stronger economy has given lawmakers billions of dollars more to work with as they now head back to work.
"I frankly don't understand the concept that we have to come in and we have to fund every line item at or above the level of which we do," Perry said at state Capitol news conference with fellow Republicans House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the state Senate.
"We come in and we prioritize," Perry said, "and what may have been a priority four years ago may not be as big a priority."
Last session, the still-sluggish economy left lawmakers facing a $27 billion budget shortfall that led to across-the-board cuts, causing layoffs of state employees and reductions in services.
And this time, "my bet, not everybody's going to be happy about where we spend our money," Perry said. But he added: "If we were failing in the budgeting of our taxpayer dollars people would not be moving here in record numbers."
Lawmakers in 2011 voted to cut $5.4 billion in state funding to public schools and educational grants for pre-kindergarten and other programs, triggering a sharp drop in the amount Texas spends per-pupil and marking the first time since World War II that funding did not keep up with increasing student enrollment growth statewide. A booming population means schools across Texas add an average of 80,000 students per year.
HOUSE TAKING A WEEK OFF
The Texas House will adjourn next week and remain out of session for six days in observance of Marin Luther King Jr. Day and the U.S. presidential inauguration.
The Legislature reconvened for its 140-day session beginning Tuesday. But House Speaker Joe Straus announced during just the second day back that an upcoming break would occur between Thursday, Jan. 17, and Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Straus said the time off encompassed the weekend and the Jan. 21 holiday honoring King.
Straus spokeswoman Erin Daly later added that some Democrats had also asked for additional time off to attend President Barack Obama's second inauguration. It will be held in Washington, also on Jan. 21.
The House has yet to approve rules governing when it can pass legislation this session.
SENATE KEEPS TWO-THIRDS RULE
The Senate unanimously approved their rules for the session on Thursday, and did not change the two-thirds rule for bringing bills for debate.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he would continue to fight to change the rule, but for now would join his colleagues in approving the senate resolution that dictates how the Senate will operate.
The two-thirds rule requires 21 senators to approve a motion to bring up a proposed law for debate out of numeric order. Since there are only 19 Republicans in the Senate that means at least two Democrats must agree to bring up the bill for there to be a vote on it. Democrats, therefore, can block controversial bills until late in the session.
Patrick wants to change the rule so that only 19 votes are needed to debate a bill, which would allow Republicans to bring up and pass any bill they want without Democratic support.
Sen. Royce West, D-Houston, said the two-thirds rule promotes cooperation in the Senate.
The House delayed establishing their rules until next week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"I'm going to keep my remarks very brief this morning. We don't want any more fainting incidents. I'm pretty sure I don't see any doctors in the crowd." Speaker Joe Straus, joking at a press conference the day after a Senate staffer fainted during opening ceremonies and three senators who are also doctors rushed to her aid.