Friday, June 03, 2005

Comptroller Certifies Budget, Hands it to Perry

All should check out a piece in the June 2005 Texas Monthly on Carole Keeton Strayhorn. It provides a glimpse into not only her power but in so doing, the system of checks and balances in our government. -Angela

Bill-signing deadline is June 19; more trims expected from governor

08:13 PM CDT on Friday, June 3, 2005

By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn declared the Legislature's new budget balanced Friday, handing the $139.4 billion spending plan to Gov. Rick Perry for expected trims.

"I am very comfortable and all my staff is very comfortable that this budget balances, that the revenue is there ... to pay for the spending," Mrs. Strayhorn said.

Austin American-Statesman
"I am very comfortable and all my staff is very comfortable that this budget balances," Carole Keeton Strayhorn said at a news conference Friday in Austin.

The comptroller said she hasn't analyzed a companion, $2.6 billion emergency appropriation bill because it hasn't been sent to her office yet.

Mr. Perry has until June 19 to sign or veto bills. On both the two-year budget and the emergency measure, he can wield a line-item veto.

Mr. Perry complained during the final weeks of the session, which ended Monday, that the spending was excessive.

The governor faces re-election next year, and some conservative activists have called on him to shave the budget. His office has declined to speculate, but he is expected to strip out far more spending than he did in 2001 or 2003.

Mrs. Strayhorn, often at odds with Mr. Perry and other fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, declined to discuss politics. And she offered only mild criticism of the budget.

"While I am certifying the budget, it does not mean I agree with all of the budget decisions," she said.

"I'm troubled by the fact that the decision was made to completely raid the state's rainy day fund," she said, referring to an account into which unspent money and certain oil and gas tax revenues are placed.

"We need to spend wisely and invest wisely and save for a rainy day," Mrs. Strayhorn said. "That's not the case here."

The comptroller also labeled as unconstitutional, as she did two years ago, a budget provision that she says allows lawmakers to be lax about their duty to pass a balanced budget. The provision is a self-correcting mechanism, which calls for across-the-board cuts in whatever amount she finds spending to exceed revenues.

"It is little more than a get-out-of-jail-free card for budget writers," she said.

Two years ago, Mrs. Strayhorn jolted lawmakers and Mr. Perry by initially rejecting the $117.4 billion budget as falling short of balancing. Within 24 hours of her rejection, Mr. Perry and the Legislature's top leaders threatened to sue the comptroller to force her to declare the budget balanced. They argued that with the automatic, across-the-board cuts, there was no problem.

Eventually a deal was reached that allowed Mrs. Strayhorn to certify the budget, after Mr. Perry agreed to use his veto pen to wipe out about $200 million in spending in two other bills. The measures increased her office's borrowing authority.

Mrs. Strayhorn said she didn't need it because lawmakers had reduced spending with a combination of cuts, accounting maneuvers and fee increases, thus closing a $10 billion shortfall.

On Friday, the comptroller complained that lawmakers in 2003 passed a law giving her just 10 days to certify or reject the budget. The clock begins when the chamber that started the budget – this year, the Senate – gives it final approval.

"The constitution clearly does not set such a limit, and I do not believe an unconstitutional limit would survive a court challenge," she said.

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