AUSTIN - Texas could issue the first bonds from a $3 billion cancer research program by the end of the year if the Legislature approves debt service appropriations in the current session, Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst said yesterday.
"We've been working for a year on creating the board, and we're still in the process of setting up the review process for proposals," he said at The Bond Buyer's 13th annual Texas Public Finance Conference here.
The $3 billion bond program for cancer research was approved by voters in 2007 as the Texas economy was in full boom. Since then, economic woes have made inroads into Texas, though Dewhurst said the state remains comparatively prosperous and is only one of six with a budget surplus.
Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate and is one of the two most powerful legislative leaders in the state, credits decisions made in 2007 to bank $7 billion in the rainy-day fund for future contingencies. Texas now has about $9 billion in the fund.
"The reason we're sitting on surplus today is because we saved $7 billion," he told. "I could clearly see that if we didn't save money and if the economy didn't dramatically pick up in 2008, we were going to face a serious deficit this year."
As a Republican, Dewhurst joined in the criticism of the $850 billion economic stimulus package that passed the U.S. House yesterday without a single Republican vote. Still, he said the state should still get a proportional share of the funds, even though the Texas economy is relatively strong.
Like most states, Texas has a large backlog of transportation projects awaiting federal funding. In the current legislative session, lawmakers will lift a two-year moratorium on private toll road development and redefine the terms for such projects, Dewhurst said.
He said lawmakers will also approve debt service for $5 billion of new bonding capacity for the Texas Department of Transportation approved by voters in 2007.
Dewhurst said that the massive Trans-Texas Corridor promoted by Gov. Rick Perry was never realistic because it relied on toll roads through rural areas of the state.
"To those of you in rural Texas, the Trans Texas Corridor never existed," he said. "You can't build toll roads in rural Texas, so don't worry."
TxDOT earlier this month conceded that the Trans Texas Corridor, as originally conceived, is dead. The concept called for two corridors 1,200 feet wide for passenger and freight traffic from the Mexican border to the state's northern boundaries. But the plan drew widespread opposition in public hearings throughout the state.