Milton Rister, director of administration in Gov. Rick Perry’s office, just asked Senate budget writers for a net increase of $81.5 million in state funds for the next two years.
If I took accurate notes — and Finance Committee Vice Chairman Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, chided Rister for not submitting his requests in writing — Perry wants:
* $50 million restored to the Enterprise Fund, not raked off for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s and Committee Chairman Steve Ogden’s favorite jobs programs at the Texas Workforce Commission and another one at Comptroller Susan Combs’ shop.
* $15 million more for the Emerging Technology Fund, which helps high-tech start ups but has been criticized because award recipients have been stalwarts of Perry’s political fundraising operation.
* $20 million more for film, TV and video game incentives.
* Authority to spend $10.2 million from court fees for criminal-justice grants.
*Ability to spend $11.3 million of hotel-occupancy tax on economic development efforts.
That adds up to $106.5 million but Rister said Perry’s willing to give up half of the $50 million the Senate budget gives him to assist local governments during disasters. Rister also asked for the same authority the Legislature has to transfer unspent money between two year budget cycles.
Apparently, the idea is that these little slush funds Perry controls are good for job growth. How you can believe that while pushing budgets that would result in the firing of 100,000 teachers, among other things, is a special talent on loan to our Governor. Here’s more about this, with Sen. John Whitmire playing the “you’ve gotta be kidding me” role.
[Whitmire] elicited testimony from Rister that the governor’s office has $265 million in unspent money in the Enterprise Fund, Emerging Technology Fund and other programs that it would like to carry over to the next two year cycle — and maintain as a sort of emergency account.
“How would that be different from a rainy day fund?” Whitmire asked. “Would that be kind of your rainy day fund that you want us to allow you to use?”
Whitmire: We’re going to be spending millions of dollars on tourism and movie production, but we’re going to be cutting back on Medicaid, letting teachers go, [cutting the Texas] School for the Deaf and autistic children? … Help me understand how you sit there and ask for those kinds of feel-good programs that might create some jobs but at the same time, we’re letting medical students go, residential residents go, state employees.
Rister: The priorities that the governor has outlined to us are job creation.
Whitmire: Even though … we’re letting teachers go, TxDOT is going to let engineers go, medical professors are going to be going? So how do you balance the two?
Rister: It’s a tough balance. … The governor has put a priority on bringing jobs to Texas. … Growing our economy is the way we get out of the recession. …
Whitmire: But UT Southwestern Medical [Center] yesterday told us that in the Dallas area, with the cuts under Senate Bill 1, they’ll lose over 1,000 employees, over 1,000 jobs … in Dallas. So we’ve got to take money from them to allow you to try to increase movie production and tourism. I don’t think the people of Texas that I represent would understand that.
In a just world, this would be the beginning of the end for Rick Perry. In the world we actually inhabit, I’ll be happy if the Senate simply thumbs its nose at him. Abby Rapoport has more.