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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bonnen Supports Reduction in State Spending

Insider's Report Vol. 7, No. 15

House adopts fiscally-conservative budget

The House of Representatives convened at 9:00 a.m. last Friday to debate the appropriations bill, and after nineteen hours of deliberation, we adopted the state budget shortly after 4:00 a.m. on Saturday.  I am proud of our efforts to reduce general revenue spending by 2.5 percent despite the challenges of these difficult economic times.  My work on the House floor demonstrates my respect for hard-working taxpayers and the need for Texas to "tighten its belt" just as families across the state are having to do.

Every odd year the Texas Legislature meets to set the state budget for the following two years.  This session the Senate took up the appropriations bill first and passed out a $182 billion budget.  The House found ways to reduce this amount to $178 billion while still meeting vital needs.

The House budget not only decreases spending compared to the last biennium, but also uses federal stimulus dollars wisely to ensure the funds are spent on one time expenditures that will not result in ongoing costs to the state.  The federal stimulus money is an influx of your federal tax money coming back to you.  Since this is a one-time receipt of funds, I worked to make certain that this money will be used only for one-time expenses such as school construction, rebuilding of the gulf coast, and other single item expenses, rather than growing government programs and expecting taxpayers to continue this new spending every two years.

Further, even though some view our state's Rainy Day Fund as bonus money in the cookie jar to be used for pet projects, we were successful in ensuring it remained untouched.  This strategy is essential in looking ahead to an uncertain economic future for the state.

My focus during this process is on the priorities that you have told me are most important to you.  I worked to ensure that $170 million was set aside for the upcoming biennium to enable the Legislature to exempt small businesses with a total revenue of up to $1 million from the margins tax.  The current exemption limit is $300,000.

Under Senate Bill 1, Brazoria County school districts will benefit from a statewide increase of $1.9 billion for public education.  Our dedicated state and school retirees will receive an additional one-time payment of $1,000.  Brazosport College's Applied Technology baccalaureate program, which I enacted through legislation in 2005, will receive over $204,000 while the college is dedicated nearly $12 million in total appropriations for the next biennium.

The many correctional officers, and all TDCJ employees, who work to ensure the safety of Brazoria County citizens will be rewarded with a well-deserved five percent pay raise.  Programs that address veterans' needs are fully funded to honor our commitment to these distinguished heroes, while the elderly, very young, and truly vulnerable citizens will also be protected.

While striving to pass a sound and fiscally-responsible budget that funds essential services, I also worked against proposals to expand government bureaucracy and spending.  I have always been a staunch opponent of school vouchers and voted in favor of an amendment that ensures state funds are not used towards a public education voucher program proposing to pay the private school tuition of a student.

Creating a budget for a state as diverse as Texas is always an especially difficult task; however, my priorities are clear and my commitment is strong to make certain that Texas addresses the most important needs of this state while also remembering that this hard-earned money is yours.

The products of the House and Senate appropriations debates will now go to a conference committee of both House and Senate members that will work out differences between the two versions.  The agreed version will come back to both bodies for final approval and then sent to the Governor.