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AUSTIN (CBS11) – When Texas lawmakers are sworn in Tuesday, they will start the process of approving a new two-year budget, a spending plan they know will be tight.
During a one-on-one interview at his Capitol office Monday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick vowed the state will keep a tight lid on spending in the next budget.
“If we are short in our revenues this year because of a downturn in the economy, you have one of two choices: You either raise taxes or you have to have cost containment. So that means our educators and people in the healthcare industries have to spend taxpayers’ money more wisely. We’re not going to raise taxes on people,” said Patrick.
Patrick pointed out the state already spends about half its budget funding public schools and higher education, and that about 40 percent goes toward healthcare and other social services.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar reported Monday that the Texas Legislature will have nearly $105 billion in general state revenue spending for the 2018-19 budget.
That’s nearly $3 billion less in state revenues than what the state had to spend for the current 2016-17 budget.
Hegar blamed the lower numbers on a slower oil and gas industry.
The state must also direct nearly $5 billion in state sales tax revenues to transportation projects after voters approved the move several years ago.
But Democratic State Representative Roberto Alonzo of Dallas said the state faced a far more severe budget in 2011, when lawmakers had to cut billions from schools.
He said it’s not that bad this time.
“I can tell you people do not have to worry. We’re going to make sure we take care of all our priorities: public safety, education, health,” said Rep. Alonzo.
Hegar said as of now, the state has a little more than $10 billion in its “rainy day” fund or savings account, and he said it’s projected to grow to nearly $12 billion by the end of the 2018-19 budget year.
There may be calls to use some of that money for programs, but Republican lawmakers have previously argued against that in case there’s another downturn or state emergency.
Patrick also challenged local governments because local property taxes are the sixth highest in the nation.
Rising property values throughout North Texas and other parts of the state have left homeowners feeling the pinch.
Patrick told CBS11, “I’m asking local governments and school districts to reduce their property taxes to no more than population (growth) and inflation, which is about four percent a year. And we may not even grow at that level based on money we have.”
Last fall, legislative leaders, including Patrick decided to spend an extra $140 million in an emergency appropriation for Child Protective Services.
That’s because the state agency is accused of failing to protect children such as four-year-old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie, who was allegedly beaten by her mother and boyfriend last year.
Leaders are hoping to hear progress in a report expected this May.
Patrick said, “If that program works, and they’re hiring a lot more investigators, more social workers, if you just say we’re keeping that program and those people, which is the intent, then you have to fund that again.”
Also Monday, Patrick announced he’s running for re-election as Lt. Governor. He also endorsed Governor Greg Abbott for re-election.
Patrick told reporters he wanted to end any false speculation that he would challenge the Governor.
The Lt. Governor said he wanted to be the first one to throw his support behind Abbott.
The Governor hasn’t announced his re-election bid yet, but is expected to do so later this year.
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