How will candidates fix state's budget?

HOUSTON Our political consultant Doctor Richard Murray says turnout is up 137 percent in Harris County.

You've seen the republican candidates' ads, but do you know the issues? We take a look at how they plan to fix the state's budget.

In the last year, 295,000 Texans lost their jobs, sales tax revenues plummeted and property values decreased. Those are huge changes for a state that for years had been on a rocket ride up. Now the next governor will be faced with a huge budget hole.

The state of Texas isn't broke, but there's a big budget hole under that big dome that needs to be plugged fast.

"We don't know what the revenue shortfall will be," said Governor Rick Perry. "Big is relative and it will be, I think, substantial. We don't know yet."

Governor Perry says he's solved this problem before. He closed a nearly $10 billion gap in 2003 as governor with budget cuts, and still added money for education. But he increased fees to do it.

Next year's hole is likely to be bigger though, and he's already ordered five percent statewide cuts.

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would "scrub the budget" as she says looking for waste.

"You can do it if you cut the frills and the things that are not service-oriented. I do think that you can, but I don't think this Governor has a record of doing that," said Sen. Hutchison.

Debra Medina on the other hand has a bold plan to get rid of the state's property tax and business tax in favor on an increased sales tax that she says would solve the problem.

"We're looking now at somewhere in the range of 6.1 percent to 15 percent. That's without reducing spending and as a conservative, I'm going to say we've got to cut spending," said Medina.

While it's hard to tell exactly how much money that would leave Texas with, it fits with her plan to limit the size of state government. She eventually would turn some state functions back to cities and counties to run.

None of the three are willing to discuss a tax raise. And none have them have been specific either in interviews or debates about what services they would cut if they had to.

How serious a challenge this will be really depends on where the candidate sits.

"It will be a huge budget deficit, which really Governor Perry has presided over. He is leaving the state in a bad financial situation," said Sen. Hutchison.

Governor Perry said, "The idea that somehow or another everything is going to heck in a hand basket because there's a national and international recession going on isn't necessarily true. Texas has the strongest economy in America."

You may've heard ads talking about a surplus. It's true that Texas has billions in a rainy day fund. Legislators and the governor avoided spending that by accepting billions in stimulus money last year. It likely will not be available next year.

On the Democrat side, former Houston mayor Bill White says no new taxes would come under his administration and he'll look for waste.

On Thursday, we turn our attention to plans to get you out of traffic and on new roads.

If you are set to head to the polls Tuesday, you'll want to be prepared. Get a look at sample ballots and find the polling locations near you.

If you are set to head to the polls Tuesday, you'll want to be prepared. Get a look at sample ballots and find the polling locations near you.

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