SENATE HONORS MADLA; DEWHURST LAYS OUT BASE BUDGET FOR UPCOMING BIENNIUM
|Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville is joined at his desk by the family of the late former Senator Frank Madla as the Senate honored his memory.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate took time today, January 23rd, to honor the memory of former Senator Frank Madla of San Antonio, who died late last year. Madla stepped away from public life in May of 2006, and died in a house fire with his 5-year-old granddaughter Aleena, and his mother-in-law, Mary Cruz, on November 24. Madla was remembered today for his dedication to the people of his district, for his kindness and for his compassion. Long time friend and colleague, Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, said Madla will be sorely missed. "We must all agree that he lived a very honorable life. He was a man of the greatest compassion and dedication, and he dedicated his life to his family, and the well being of his fellow Texans," said Lucio.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst presented a base budget for the upcoming session today, saying a strong Texas economy and conservative spending policies have put the state in a good position to meet all expenditures over the next two years, with money left over. Dewhurst cautioned that any extra money must be carefully shepherded, however, to ensure a balanced budget for the next biennium. He added that an increase in general revenue of $14.3 billion will allow the state to make good on paying for the billions in property tax cuts passed last session. "We've got enough money to be able to balance our budget over the next four years, provide for modest increase in our essential services, and still provide the promised local school property tax cuts that we outlined last May, a little over 7 billion dollars in local school property taxes each year for the next four year," said Dewhurst.
The Lt. Governor was quick to point out that the revenue increase did not equal a $14 billion budget surplus. After the state pays for property tax cuts, repayments to other state funds and debt service, as well as an increase in the cost of state services, Dewhurst said the surplus for the 2008-2009 biennium is a little more than $2 billion. The budget laid out today includes $3.9 billion to offset the costs of property tax cuts, $1.4 billion to the state's Rainy Day and Technology Infrastructure funds and another $1.4 billion to education and health deferrals caused by the 2003 budget shortfall. Additionally, the budget would use $1 billion from the revenue increase to pay for education reforms passed as part of last session's property tax cut legislation, and $1.1 billion to account for population growth in Medicaid expenses.
|Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo says she is pleased with the base budget unveiled today. She is joined by Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.|
After all those obligations are paid off, said Dewhurst, the state will be left with $2.5 billion in surplus money. There are many competing interests for that money he said, from improving border security, to higher education financial aid, or money for new prisons and rehabilitation programs. Dewhurst said the state must be careful how it spends that money, to ensure that Texas can remain in strong financial shape down the road.
Bryan Senator Steve Ogden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he intends to pass an appropriations bill out of his committee that repays the money taken out of state funds to balance the budget in past sessions, as well paying for debt service and other obligations. "My goal is to get a bill out of the Senate Finance Committee in two months 15-0, and make sure it's the most fundamentally sound that we've ever written in this state," he said.
Finance Committee Vice-Chair Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, a long time budget process veteran, said she is more pleased with this year's base budget than any she has seen before. "I've been on the Senate Finance Committee since 1991, and on the Appropriations Conference Committee six times, and I have to tell you this is the best I've ever felt about a base bill," she said. "It's a wonderful start."
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, January 24, at 11 a.m.