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Lawmakers support tapping Rainy Day Fund

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Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:00 pm

By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

Reactions have been mixed since Tuesday's agreement between House leaders and Gov. Rick Perry to allocate $3.2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund toward the current biennium's shortfall.

While some Democrats say more of the fund should be tapped to help bridge the massive $27 billion shortfall estimated for 2012-13, Republicans appear ready to accomplish that task with spending cuts alone.

The commitment to keep all hands off the Rainy Day Fund's remaining $6.2 billion was made clear by Perry on Tuesday following the deal reached in the House Appropriations Committee to support House Bill 275 and HB 4. The two bills close 2010-11's $4.3 billion shortfall using the $3.2 billion as well as a combination of cuts and $300 million from increased sales tax collections.

"We have worked closely with state leaders and lawmakers to balance the current budget, which includes using a one-time amount from the Economic Stabilization Fund to help our budget deal with the impact of the national recession," Perry said in a statement. "I remain steadfastly committed to protecting the remaining balance of the Rainy Day Fund, and will not sign a 2012-13 state budget that uses the Rainy Day Fund."

The governor's position seems to be shared by legislators representing Killeen and Bell County.

"I am OK with tapping the Rainy Day Fund for this budget cycle, but I'm not OK with tapping it for the next biennium," said Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville. "We need to live within our means."

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. seemed more lukewarm in his opposition to using additional Rainy Day money. He did stress he was supporting the governor's stance.

"It is his (Perry's) call to make and he has the right to his position," Aycock said on Wednesday. "There does not appear to be - at least this morning - much stomach on the floor of the House to go beyond what is necessary to pay the bills."

Aycock has been especially involved with the maneuvering over the Rainy Day money. In addition to serving on the Appropriations Committee, he also chairs the appropriations subcommittee on current fiscal condition.

Aycock said the original presumption under HB 1 - the House's first-draft budget bill - was to use revenue from the 2012-13 biennium to help close the present biennium's shortfall.

By implementing cuts and using Rainy Day money instead, Aycock said $4.3 billion will be made available next biennium. He said roughly $2 billion is proposed to be allocated toward public education, while the remainder would likely be divided between Health and Human Services and prisons. Aycock acknowledged that even with the freed-up funding, K-12 education in Texas would still be looking at a roughly $8 billion hit over the next two years under HB 1. "It doesn't nearly plug the gap, but it will definitely help," Aycock said.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said he hopes the Senate Appropriations Committee will follow in line with the House committee.

"I'm supportive of what they did," Fraser said. "I believe it is raining now and we have to use some of the funds, but I'm in agreement we should keep the reserve in tact two years from now and I believe the Senate will be supportive of that position."

Leading Democrats in the Legislature say tackling the next biennium's shortfall solely through cuts will wreak havoc on the state's education and health care systems.

Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, sits on the House Appropriations Committee and wasted no time after Tuesday's vote criticizing Perry's stance.

"Today the governor told Republican legislators he won't let them use a dime of the Rainy Day Fund to protect schools or nursing homes for the next two years, and they accepted his rotten deal," Villarreal said in a statement. "The governor believes the Rainy Day Fund is designed to save his political career but not save our schools."

Contact Andy Ross at aross@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.

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