Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s staff has found as much as $6 billion to help with the budget shortfall, and he says none of the proposals involve new taxes.
The ideas range from using the emergency Rainy Day Fund to changing the way the state’s gas tax is collected.
Dewhurst did not reveal too many details about the ideas.
He said he is discussing them with Senate Finance Committee, which must make decisions about how to balance the next state budget despite a shortfall of at least $9.9 billion through 2005.
“These are tough times. We’ve got a budget shortfall, and one of the things that we’re all concerned about is making sure that we’ve got enough funding for all of our core services,” Dewhurst said.
Dewhurst said until now the focus has been on making cuts to state spending. After weeks of budget hearings where agencies and needy Texans testified about the effects of deep cuts, the lieutenant governor said it’s time to begin the discussion about revenue.
As long as it doesn’t mean new taxes, Dewhurst added.
The House Higher Education Committee has started looking at legislation to ban colleges from using Social Security numbers as student identification.
The move comes less than a week after hackers stole Social Security numbers and other information from more than 55,000 students and employees at the University of Texas at Austin.
Many colleges now require students’ Social Security numbers to register for class, check out books from the library and post grades on public bulletin boards.
Last year more than 14,000 Texans reported to the Federal Trade Commission that their identities were stolen.
The Texas Senate has approved legislation designed to give the State Board of Medical Examiners more power to discipline doctors.
The bill strengthens the board’s authority to immediately suspend the licenses of doctors who have been convicted of a violent crime.
It also requires the board to give priority to complaints about doctors that involve sexual misconduct and quality of care and about license holders who currently are under disciplinary order.
“This bill gives the board new tools to ensure that the board can take swift and appropriate action on a few bad actors, the 6 percent of Texas doctors who cause 50 percent of all malpractice claims,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.
The bill is part of a package of legislation meant to bring down medical malpractice insurance rates and increase patient access to doctors.
KEEPING IT REAL
A coalition of public interests groups took an unusual message to the road: Texas may need new taxes.
The “Real Budget Project” is an effort the groups say is needed to educate Texans about how much it really costs to run a state of 22 million people. The group laid out a state income tax as a possible solution.
The coalition said that instead of focusing on budget cuts to deal with a $9.9 billion shortfall through 2005, lawmakers ought to consider changing the state’s complex tax laws that exempt billions from sales taxes and prohibit state income or property taxes.
“Texans believe the prisons are guarded, the children are educated, our water systems are tested and government is doing what is necessary. But the state budget shortchanges these and other programs. As with anything else, you get what you pay for,” said Bee Morehead, director of Texas Impact, an interfaith policy group.
The Texas Citizens Action Network, Citizens for a Sound Economy and Texas Public Policy Foundation were quick to speak up against a state income tax.
“Now is not the time to look at tax increases or dramatically changing our system. It’s time to examine how our tax dollars are being spent,” said Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy.
The attorney general’s office would serve as a clearinghouse in handling corporate fraud cases and investigations in Texas under proposed legislation intended to crack down on a recent wave of corporate scandals.
The legislation aims to make addressing corporate fraud more efficient by focusing enforcement and investigation duties in a Corporate Integrity Office within the attorney general’s office.
The new office would assist district attorneys, county attorneys and state agencies in investigating and prosecuting corporate fraud.
The package of bills also would create an “Open Corporations Law,” requiring companies with state contracts to immediately report any financial irregularities relating to the contract or the company’s financial position. Annual audits would be required of operations and use of state funds. Violations would be punishable with a $10,000 fine.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who filed the legislation in the Senate, said recent scandals have made it increasingly necessary to address corporate corruption.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The eyes of the nation were and remain on the state of Texas.” – Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on legislation intended to crack down on corporate scandals after the collapse of Houston-based Enron Corp.