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Perry Spends Billions in State of the State

Ben Philpott, KUT News

Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered his seventh state of the state address to the Texas Legislature Tuesday.

Looking back at Governor Perry’s past speeches, the state of our state has varied from strong, to vibrant, to good, back to strong…and now, "...It is my pleasure to report that the state of our state is stronger than ever," Perry said.

That strength, and a sunny revenue forecast, seemed to put the governor in a generous mood. Once Perry had gotten past the usual platitudes of a strong business climate and the success of conservative principles, he started talking about the need to spend billions of dollars.

Perry wants to spend $3.7 billion from the state’s Rainy Day fund on water and transportation infrastructure.  But he also said it’s time for a constitutional amendment that creates a mechanism for providing tax refunds.

"In a legislative session where we could see billions of dollars still on the table after we’ve funded our services and met the needs of our ever expanding population, I think providing tax relief of at least $1.8 billion dollars over this biennium is a good place to start," Perry said.

The governor also made a point of reiterating his stance that Texas will not be participating in the expansion of Medicaid provided by the Affordable Care Act. Estimates predict about one and a half million Texans would get health coverage under expansion.

In a response by Democrats, Austin Senator Kirk Watson said even when you set aside the health benefits of expanding the Medicaid system, Texas would still come out on top.

“What it would do from an economic perspective for our state is pretty significant if not phenomenal. But yet, almost because of just disliking who might have won an election, we’re not going to focus on something that will make citizens of this state healthier and make our economy healthier," Watson said.

Democrats estimate Texas would spend about $3 billion over three years to get a federal match of $27 billion. Watson and other Democrats criticized the governor for not pushing to restore the billions in public education cuts made in 2011. And for wanting to spend money expanding charter schools and using state tax dollars to set up private school scholarships.

Watson said the Governor’s plan to give back leftover money doesn’t stand up to scrutiny—because the current proposed budgets still don’t fund critical services.

“We ought to demand honesty in the budgeting process about what those real needs are," Waston said, " that when we start taking about taking in more than you need we can be candid about what that really needs.”

There is one positive review from Democrats. They’re pleased with the idea to spend rainy day money on water and transportation infrastructure. As one Democrat put it, they’re just encouraged that, for the first time in four years, the legislature is going to be allowed to spend any money out of that fund.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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