Texas budget shortfall could bring new fees, taxes

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on January 10, 2011 at 9:33 PM

The state comptroller says Texas lawmakers have $72 billion for a new budget. That's $15 billion less than we currently spend.

Some people say we are even worse off than that when you factor in growth in schools and welfare costs.

Martha Collins renewed her state motor vehicle registration on Monday, paying the fee that varies from $40 to $70 depending on the vehicle's age.

But what if motorists had to pay an extra $50 next year to help cover the state budget gap? Collins slams on the brakes on that idea.

"Why?" she asked. "Like I said, the economy is bad."

But increasing the vehicle registration fee is just one of the ideas being mentioned by some state lawmakers to close the budget gap, which was made very real by the revenue estimate from State Comptroller Susan Combs.

"The reason for this negative balance was the weakened economy and its impact on sales tax and other major revenue sources during the last couple of years," Combs said.

For now, Republicans who control the Texas House and Senate say new revenue isn't on the table.

"Those ideas of fees or taxes are just not in the ballpark," said State Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano). "Cuts... cuts is the magic word."

But with the new revenue estimate, Democrats say cuts alone won't let the state keep up with growth in medical care for low-income residents and with the needs of educators.

"We won't have educated kids, or we'll have a few... this is about the priorities of spending," said State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston).

Lawmakers can tap the state's "rainy day fund" of more than $9 billion to cover some of the gap.

But along with cuts — if there still aren't enough dollars — lawmakers may still want drivers like Martha Collins to pay more.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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