SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS (TEXAS)
HEADLINE: Lawmakers met goals for Texas
BYLINE: Rick Perry
BODY: Texas legislators headed to the Capitol in January faced with a $9.9 billion revenue shortfall, with the highest homeowners insurance rates in the nation, and with skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance rates driving doctors out of business.
They endured the 140-day legislative session through repeated demands from special interest groups for an income tax, higher cigarette taxes, expanded sales taxes, higher gasoline taxes, casino gambling, video lottery games, keno parlors and more - all to fuel further expansion of government programs.
By the time the Legislature adjourned June 2, though, Texas lawmakers had passed a $117.4 billion budget that represents $2.2 billion more in federal funds and $2.6 billion less in state general revenue tax dollars. We've examined every line item of spending in state government, reordering our priorities to meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations and balanced the budget without raising taxes.
Despite the tough budgetary times, we increased spending on vital health care programs by $1.1 billion and on public education by $1.2 billion. An additional $800 million in state aid will be paid to school districts in September 2005 for their 2004-05 school year expenditures. We passed a new science initiative patterned after the state's successful reading and math initiatives, and we increased funding for the TEXAS Grant Program to $324 million so Texans of modest means can pursue their college dreams. And we set aside $295 million to create the Texas Enterprise Fund, a program that will help create new jobs and ensure Texas will be able to continue to fund its priorities in the future.
We passed historic lawsuit reform legislation that will help ensure doctors can continue to practice medicine and that Texans all across the state have access to medical care.
Texas increased accountability while maintaining the Children's Health Insurance Program for families whose income is 200 percent of poverty, or roughly $3,000 per month for a family of four. That is the same income eligibility the Legislature set when the program was instituted in 1999. We also increased funding for Medicaid acute care coverage, HIV medications and children with special health care needs - once again focusing on our most vulnerable populations.
We also provided $10 million in funding to increase the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers in Texas. These centers will provide routine and preventive care to an estimated 250,000 additional Texans who are uninsured. We committed $172 million for trauma centers across the state so our emergency rooms can expand and hire more doctors. And we funded this initiative with tougher fines on habitually bad drivers - those individuals responsible for many of the patients who end up in emergency rooms.
We reduced the size of government by consolidating the state's 12 health and human services agencies into five agencies, a move that is projected to help save Texas $1 billion. With this consolidation, plus fraud prevention efforts and redesign of programs, we have ensured that resources are focused on services and not bureaucracy.
The landmark transportation bill that passed uses creative financing to maximize our ability to build the highway, rail and other infrastructure needed to move people and products safely and to encourage businesses to locate in Texas.
We also funded the Texas Emissions Reduction, protecting the public health while proving that economic growth and clean air can go hand-in-hand. Given the budget we faced, our accomplishments are nothing short of epic.
We approached the tough budget decisions not as a crisis, but as an opportunity to reform the way government operates. And we addressed state spending the way families and businesses all across the state must do in lean economic times - by tightening the belt and focusing on our priorities.
In so doing, Texas reversed the ever-expanding growth of government bureaucracies and programs. We did what we set out to do - and Texas is better for the promises we kept.
Rick Perry is governor of Texas.