Two years after the ferocious budget-cutting of the 78th Lege, we still have a budget deficit.
"It looks to me like we're going to be short about $2 billion," said [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.
"That's a lot of money, and during all of the 1990s the Legislature was never faced with a shortfall like that," he said. But after the deficit of two years ago, he added, "Two billion dollars doesn't sound quite as bad."
Even with a shortfall, he said, "We're going to balance this budget. We're going to put more money into public education. We're putting more money into the Medicaid and CHIP programs. We're putting more money into adult protective services and child protective services.
"These are all critical needs."
One thing to note: State Rep. Rob Eissler (R, The Woodlands), who has introduced a bill to increase the sales tax, gave as a justification for the increase the new federal law which allows sales taxes to be deducted from one's federal income taxes. Apparently, the Bush Administration is considering doing away with deductions for state and local taxes as a deficit-reduction measure. I rather doubt that will ever pass, for a variety of reasons, but its very specter might spook some legislators. Watch the rhetoric on this one.
There are, of course, other obstacles to school finance reform.
Gov. Rick Perry is serving notice that he wants to make more than funding changes in the public schools.
And he is armed with a new report from business advisers who want, among other things, to spend tax dollars on school vouchers, boost funding for charter schools and restructure the way teachers are paid.
Those proposals, strongly opposed by many educator groups and many Democrats, already are producing fireworks, two months before lawmakers convene Jan. 11.
Perry told a business audience in Dallas earlier this week that Texas has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide "meaningful reform" to public education.
He is expected to deliver a similar message today in an address to the Greater Houston Partnership.