orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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January 9, 2013

Perry: No promises to restore past budget cuts

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that Texas is making no promises it will roll back any of the deep state spending cuts imposed during past economic doldrums, even to soften the blow of $5.4 billion in funding sliced from public schools two years ago.

The governor said there's no obligation to restore funding levels reduced the last time the Legislature convened in 2011 or those imposed amid the depths of the national recession before that, even as a stronger economy has given lawmakers billions of dollars more to work with as they now head back to work.

"I frankly don't understand the concept that we have to come in and we have to fund every line item at or above the level of which we do," Perry said at state Capitol news conference with fellow Republicans House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the state Senate.

"We come in and we prioritize," Perry said, "and what may have been a priority four years ago may not be as big a priority."

Last session, the still-sluggish economy left lawmakers facing a $27 billion budget shortfall that led to across-the-board cuts, causing layoffs of state employees and reductions in services.

And this time, "my bet, not everybody's going to be happy about where we spend our money," Perry said. But he added: "If we were failing in the budgeting of our taxpayer dollars people would not be moving here in record numbers."

Lawmakers in 2011 voted to cut $5.4 billion in state funding to public schools and educational grants for pre-kindergarten and other programs, triggering a sharp drop in the amount Texas spends per-pupil and marking the first time since World War II that funding did not keep up with increasing student enrollment growth statewide. A booming population means schools across Texas add an average of 80,000 students per year.

More than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's 5 million-plus public school students are suing the state, claiming that the cuts make the formula used to fund education so inadequate and inequitable that it violates state constitutional guarantees.

The GOP holds majorities in both the state House and Senate, but Democrats are clamoring that additional state revenue could give Texas a chance to undo some of the 2011 cuts to schools. Perry countered, however, that state funding for schools over the past 10 years increased at a rate three times that of enrollment growth.

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