May 25, 2005
Budget update

You know the drill: Progress is being made on tax and school finance issues. Both chambers are committed, differences remain but we're all confident, we know time is running out, blah blah blah.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick met for about 90 minutes in Craddick's office Tuesday afternoon, with Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden joining part of the session. Dewhurst later said the Senate remains determined to forge a school finance and property-tax relief compromise before legislators adjourn Monday. But he reported little progress, and Craddick declined to comment.

"We've got a lot to do, but we can do it," Dewhurst said. "The Senate is motivated."

Asked if Craddick shared his sense of urgency, he replied: "I think the speaker understands that time is passing."

If that praise got any fainter, it'd be see-thru.

A few items of interest:

[House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland] said the House also is ready to drop a controversial tax on soft drinks and snack foods.

Oh, Donut Tax, we hardly knew ye.

The differences between the tax bills was outlined in a letter to lawmakers from Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. The letter said the House version of a revised state franchise tax would raise $600 million more than the current tax during the next two years, while the Senate version would raise an additional $2.5 billion.

Remember: all the House cares about is paying for property tax cuts. The Senate wants to increase funding for schools, at least by a little bit. Watch carefully for who wins this fight.

The House, meanwhile, approved Senate Bill 1863. The key provision in that bill sets Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program eligibility at six months instead of a year. That difference will save the state $300 million over the next two years by making it more difficult for individuals to stay on the state health insurance programs for the poor.

I recall a former Governor once saying something about not wanting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Guess no one took that too seriously.

The budget likely will not include funding for one of Gov. Rick Perry's priority projects, creation of a $300 million emerging technology fund for business development. His current Texas Enterprise Fund also will be funded at about $250 million instead of the $300 million he had requested.

At least Governor Perry won't get a second slush fund to squander. Cutting $50 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund is a good start, but zeroing it out would be better.

Five days to go. Hold onto your hats.

UPDATE: Leave it to In the Pink to work in an appropriate movie reference.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 25, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack