- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, April 17 (UPI) — The Texas House Thursday passed a $117 billion, two-year budget that keeps Republican promises of no new taxes but imposes cuts that Democrats say would leave 700,000 low-income adults and children without health care.

The Republican-controlled house approved the bill 100-45 after three days of debate and very few changes although Democrats complained about cuts in social programs. The bill goes to the senate and eventually a conference committee.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry proposed a zero-based budget to the legislators, who face a $9.9 billion shortfall in the next biennium. Perry and GOP legislative leaders vowed there would be no tax increases.

About $57 billion of the $117 billion budget comes from state funds controlled by the Legislature and governor. The rest comes from federal funds administered by state agencies.

Democrats said the proposed budget would cut health care programs for 600,000 children and 60,000 adults. They said fewer cuts would be needed if Republicans would support a hike in the cigarette tax or elimination of the sales tax exemptions given to certain businesses.

"All the cuts are on the backs of the people who can least afford it," said Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas. "What about the people? … We have not attempted to look for any new revenue."

Republicans said they refused to put an additional burden on the state's taxpayers when they were already suffering the effects of an economic downtown.

"I wish I could meet every need, solve every problem, wipe every tear and comfort every sorrow with an appropriation from the state of Texas. But I cannot," said Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie.

There were few changes during the debate but Republicans did move more money to schools when a few GOP lawmakers complained that educational appropriations had been cut too much. The House voted 108-32 to move $524 million from Medicaid, the health program for the poor, to public school funding.

On Monday, Perry urged legislators to "hold the line" on spending and keep the pledge of no new taxes. He said they should take the approach of families, "spending what they can afford and not one cent more."

Perry cited a study by the National Association of Independent Business that Texas spending increased more than 48 percent between 1986 and 2000. State spending nationwide grew by about 40 percent during the same period, according to the study.

The Texas shortfall was caused by a sharp downturn in state tax collections, particularly the sales tax. March sales tax collections were down 2.3 percent from a year earlier, the ninth consecutive monthly decline in the state main's revenue source.

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