- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson addressed their states' needs Tuesday, one calling for restraint and the other for action.

Perry, facing a near $10 billion budget shortfall, urged limited government. Richardson, in a better budget situation, asked for the tools to improve schools and create more jobs in his state.

In his inaugural address, Perry said fiscal discipline would be a key priority in his Republican administration and it was no time to raise taxes with an ailing economy.

"Much has been made of our so-called revenue shortfall, but that is a term that resonates only in Austin where even $100 billion budgets are called insufficient," he said. "I disagree. We have the revenue we need to meet the priorities of our people. It will not be easy, but it will be done."

Perry said the special interests often speak "with a loud voice" and state leaders must listen to the "quiet voice" of the ordinary citizen.

"And those men and women are wise enough to know it is not the size of government that defines the compassion of our people, but the priorities we set," he said. "Limited government — focused rather than unwieldy, clear in priorities rather than long on promises — that's the government Texans have voted for and expect from their leaders."

Perry said his priorities include education, healthcare, job creation, and reforms in insurance regulation, tax structure and school finance.

Perry's inaugural address came after he was administered the oath of office by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips.

Perry, a former lieutenant governor, succeeded George W. Bush. He was elected to his first, four-year term last November in a spirited contest with Democrat Tony Sanchez, a Laredo millionaire.

Perry is facing the worst fiscal crisis in about a decade in Texas. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says the state is facing a $9.9 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget cycle.

On Friday, Perry sent a zero-based budget to the Legislature, asking the lawmakers to start from scratch and justify each expenditure. The current state budget is more than $114 billion.

Perry's unusual move was supported by Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was also inaugurated Tuesday, and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland. The GOP controls the Legislature for the first time in 131 years.

In neighboring New Mexico, Richardson asked the Legislature for the tools to upgrade schools, reduce taxes, and jump-start the state economy. The former Clinton cabinet official was sworn into office on Jan. 1 after a landslide victory last November.

"We need to get moving. We must put our state on a path to progress. We face daunting challenges — creating a high-wage economy, improving our schools, protecting our water and environment, providing adequate healthcare, providing clean energy," he said.

"I want you to give me the tools in this session to jump on our problems. We need to move now, not next summer, not next year. Give me the tools and I'll give you — and New Mexico — the results."

Richardson proposed a 6 percent pay raise for the state's teachers, which he said would move their pay rate from 46th in the nation to 39th. He called on school districts to commit $36 million in non-emergency reserve funds to financing basic school improvements.

Calling the state's tax system "a patched up mess," Richardson also called for a immediate quick fix by lowering the top personal income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 7.7 percent. He said the loss in revenue would be made up by new wager earners.

"I am convinced that by making New Mexico a more tax-friendly place for growth-oriented businesses and entrepreneurs, the cut in rate will be more than compensated for by the increase in taxpayers — and income — in that bracket," he said.

Richardson also pledged to bring more of the state's Native American population into the state government. He said their participation has lagged in the past and he has already appointed seven Indians to key posts in his new administration.

"I want our Native Americans to be full partners in directing the future of the state we share," he said. "I want their input into government. And through their presence at all levels of government, it is my hope that all Native Americans will reach a greater understanding and trust of their state government."

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(Reported by Phil Magers in Dallas)





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