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Legislature Starts With Surplus, But Money Still Main Discussion

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jack Fink
Jack moved to Dallas after three years at WESH-TV, the NBC affil...
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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – The Texas economy has surely bounced back and is expanding again, and because of sales tax revenues have increased, the state has more money to spend.

But the state’s Republican leaders still want to keep tight reins on the budget.

The state comptroller announced the state will have about $95 billion available to spend for the next two years, that’s about $23 billion more than what the state is spending this and last year.

While times were tough in the last budget, the state says it ended up with a nearly $9 billion surplus. But the state still owes about $7 billion for this year, bringing the surplus to about $2 billion.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst doesn’t want to spend all of the money that’s available to the state. But among the issues he and others will face this session is whether to restore funding to public schools, which had their budgets slashed two years ago.

Mr. Dewhurst pointed to the fact that school funding is now tied up in the courts after 400 school districts sued the state over funding.

He didn’t say he favors restoring those cuts fully. “Whether putting it in now or later, we’re going to have to set aside money to go ahead and cover whatever decision comes out of the courts.”

Dewhurst says with the state’s population of 26 million set to double in the next 40 or 50 years, it’s time to tap some of the rainy day fund, which could be nearly $12 Billion by the end of 2015.

He says he’s had preliminary discussions with Governor Perry about it. “It’s still early. I have to talk to the Senators, I don’t want to get ahead of them, but several billion dollars.”

Mr. Dewhurst says the state must start planning now, and not wait. “So each decade of the next four or five, we have to increase the number of our classrooms, our teachers, our drinking water, and our highway capacity each decade.”

Democratic State Representative Helen Giddings of Dallas agrees the state needs to prepare for the future. “I think we’re in fairly good shape. We don’t have money to just throw around, but I think if we’re careful I our budgetary process, we can take care of the needs of Texans.”

But will Texas have enough water for residents, enough classrooms to educate children, and enough highways to get around? Those questions will still have to be answered over the ongoing legislative session.

The 83rd legislative session begins at the state capitol Tuesday.

If you can’t travel down to Austin to watch the legislature yourself, AT&T announced it will offer U-verse customers across the state access to proceedings live on their Channel 99.

You can also watch and listen to the legislature at capitol.state.tx.us.

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