TX Lt. Gov. says 8,000 state jobs cut in draft budget

January 13, 2011 4:49:13 PM PST
The first draft of Texas' new budget will eliminate an estimated 8,000 state jobs and stay within available revenue, which is almost $8 billion lower than the last budget, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday. The initial "bill is not going to be pretty, it never is," he said. The Texas House is expected to make the bill public on Tuesday.

Dewhurst added that he opposed across-the-board reductions and said lawmakers would go through the budget agency by agency to find cuts to nonessential services in order to make up for the drop in revenue.

The lieutenant governor said state jobs will be eliminated as agencies are combined to become more efficient. But he added that most of those positions are currently empty and will not result in more people unemployed.

Dewhurst left open the possibility of tapping the state's $9 billion Rainy Day Fund, but he said the baseline budget proposals will stay within the $72.2 billion the state expects to collect in taxes and fees. He ruled out any new taxes.

"We must live within our means," Dewhurst said. But he added that he is hopeful that an improving economy will make additional funds available before lawmakers are expected to pass a final budget in May,

Dewhurst rejected outside estimates that Texas faces a $27 billion deficit, but acknowledged that many programs will be cut to balance the budget, something that is required under the Texas Constitution. The $27 billion estimate is derived from the loss in revenue, the end of federal stimulus spending and the forecast increase in costs to educate and care for a growing population.

Texas had a similar budget crisis in 2003, Dewhurst said, and that experience will help him and other state leaders deal with the current shortfalls.

He said he hoped to protect spending on public education and public safety, while maintaining essential funding for the Department of Health and Human Services.

And while he insisted there would be no new taxes, Dewhurst left open the option of refining the business franchise tax. He said that tax had failed to generate the income lawmakers expected, and that they may need to make adjustments to it.

"If our assumptions prove to be wrong, we'll go back and take a look at it," Dewhurst said.

He said he supported Gov. Rick Perry's calls for emergency legislation on eminent domain and so-called sanctuary cities that don't require local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws. Asked to explain what he intended, Dewhurst said that he supported legislation that would allow local police to question people about their immigration status, but not require them to do it. Such a requirement in Arizona has stirred controversy.

The lieutenant governor, who controls legislation in the state Senate, also set out some priorities for the 140-day legislative session. He called for resolutions to oppose new federal health care laws, to triple the number of border patrol agents in Texas and for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget.