Texas governor urges state's lawmakers to resist spending freely
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry urged state lawmakers on Tuesday to resist pressure to spend money freely, despite a state forecast for dramatically rosier revenues than two years ago.
"Trust me when I tell you that there are interests all across the state who view Monday's revenue estimates as the equivalent of ringing the dinner bell," Perry told state senators on the first day of the Texas legislative session, referring to projections by Comptroller Susan Combs. "They all want more for their causes. They all figure we have manna falling from heaven."
State lawmakers will write a two-year budget during the session that continues through May 27. Combs projected a 12.4 percent rise in revenue, $101.4 billion for the 2014-2015 budget cycle, because of higher-than-expected tax collections boosted by economic growth.
The Republican governor told lawmakers in the House and Senate, both of which have Republican majorities, to avoid adding taxes or raiding the state's rainy-day fund for ongoing expenses.
Perry had made a run for the Republican nomination for president but dropped out of the race in January 2012.
Regarding social programs, Perry called on the legislature to authorize drug testing for people applying for public assistance and unemployment insurance, and to pass a law banning abortion at the point a fetus can feel pain.
Several states have passed laws banning abortion after 20 weeks, when some controversial research suggests a fetus can feel pain.
State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, said the governor's message of spending restraint is "certainly insulting" and shows that Perry is tone deaf to the many needs of the state.
State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, said: "There's not a state agency in this state that is being adequately funded, not one."
House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who won the support of his colleagues on Tuesday to continue in that role, called on the legislature to address the state's water challenges, including a historic drought that he said has caused $8 billion in losses to agriculture alone. He also asked lawmakers to tackle challenges in education, infrastructure and jobs and to ensure a transparent budget.
Straus said Texas would be the 14th-largest economy in the world if it were a country - though he promised that becoming a separate country was not on the to-do list for the session.
"Other states envy our strength," Straus said. "But we should not allow our state's many successes to hide some very real and very urgent challenges."
(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)