AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry quickly rebuffed a suggestion by the chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee on Friday for a 10-cent increase in the state gasoline tax to help finance Texas’ transportation needs.
Sen. John Corona, R-Dallas, challenged state leaders to get behind the proposal as a much-needed shot in the arm for Texas’ deteriorating road network. The 20-cent gasoline tax hasn’t been raised since 1991. Motorists also pay 18 cents in federal taxes.
But Perry, who is seeking re-election to an unprecedented third four-year term, said that an increase would run afoul of his goal of holding the line on state taxes and that Carona’s proposal is not likely to get a "warm welcome" in the Legislature. "I’m not real fond of raising taxes when there’s a recession going on," Perry told reporters. "We ought to be looking at ways to cut taxes — not raise them."
Perry, Carona and other state officials participated in a conference sponsored by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association to assess the Texas economy and the outlook for state government. Other participants included Lt. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and Comptroller Susan Combs.
The overall message from the state’s Republican leadership was that Texas is faring better than other states but nevertheless faces serious challenges after months of declining sales tax revenue and rising unemployment.
Perry and Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, both urged state agencies to throttle back on spending to make it easier for state lawmakers to balance the budget at their next biennial session, in 2011.
"I think it’s time for state leaders and state agencies to really sharpen their pencils," Perry said. "Every penny that we save during the current biennium is a penny closer" to a balanced budget, he said.
Combs, the state’s chief financial officer, said that she sees no need to revise her estimate of state revenues for the current biennium and that while tax revenue has declined, expenditures have also dropped.
A significant change in the revenue outlook could force lawmakers into a special session to revise the budget.
DAVE MONTGOMERY is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294