AUSTIN--Saying every dollar the state spends must be fully
accounted for, Gov. Rick Perry submitted his proposal Friday for
the 2004-05 budget cycle and recommended that state agencies start
at zero and justify every amount they request.
Perry, a Republican who took office two years ago and was
elected to his first four-year term in November, called his
His 15-page document gives no indication about which agencies he
thinks need more money and which could get by with less.
Critics accused Perry of shirking his obligation to lay out his
priorities to a Legislature that opened its 140-day session this
week with the news that the state is facing a $9.9 billion
shortfall over the next two years. Costs are spiraling for programs
such as Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance while receipts
from sales taxes and other sources are lagging because of the
In a news release, Perry said he plans to work closely with
lawmakers to flesh out the spending plan, which he said would meet
the state's essential needs over the next two years.
Perry, along with fellow Republicans Tom Craddick, the new House
speaker, and incoming Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has been urging the
GOP-dominated Legislature to resist any pressure to raise taxes.
The budget for the present two-year cycle is $114 billion.
"The current fiscal situation demands that we re-examine the
core responsibilities of government and the state spending
practices of the past dozen years," said Perry, who issued his
budget recommendation in cooperation with Dewhurst and Craddick.
"This budget starts at zero, because in tough budgetary times,
every dollar spent by government must be scrutinized to determine
whether it justifies consideration as a priority."
In Fort Worth, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn neither
praised nor criticized the budget proposal. It is "certainly the
leadership's prerogative" to submit such a budget, Strayhorn said
before speaking to a group of real estate agents Friday at the
"I'll let the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker
speak for themselves on what they're doing," she said.
Strayhorn said she has suggested a different approach to solving
the shortfall. Her plan would give agencies a working number and
force them to justify additional expenditures, she said.
While the three top leaders said the unprecedented action of
recommending a zero budget will end with greater accountability for
state spending, critics called the document an abdication of their
responsibility to set priorities for the Legislature, which meets
for 20 weeks every other year.
"The governor is the chief executive officer of our state, and
he is required by the Texas Constitution to make recommendations
for funding the state's needs to the Legislature," said F. Scott
McCown, who heads the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a
liberal-leaning think tank.
"By zeroing out every agency, he is admitting that he cannot
make budget recommendations to meet the state's needs without
additional revenue," McCown said.
The head of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy praised the idea
of starting the budget at zero, saying that no state agency should
begin the process expecting a sum because it may have received that
amount in the past.
"It's a whole new day in Texas," said Peggy Venable, executive
director of the conservative group. "It's time to take a fresh look
at everything the state is spending money on and make the decision
as to whether it's appropriate to continue these expenditures."
Craddick, a veteran lawmaker who is beginning his first term
leading the sometimes fractious House, said the new way of
budgeting will give Texans a more informed look at how the state
"We are committed to starting our budget at zero and ending
within available revenue, providing Texans with more detailed
information on how we spend their tax dollars," said Craddick, of
Midland. "However, as the governor is well aware, the House is
comprised of 150 very diverse members."
Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the Texas Democratic Party,
predicted that the "zero" recommendation is more likely to result
in chaos than in consensus.
"Gov. Perry and the Republicans campaigned promising leadership,
vision and experience," Malcolm said. "The legislative session has
just started, and already Gov. Perry is again failing to lead, and
showing no vision at a time when the budget crunch demands tough