DALLAS — Members of a new Texas Senate special subcommittee were tasked Monday with finding $5 billion of savings and non-tax revenues over the next two weeks.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wanted a report from the newly created Committee on Fiscal Matters by April 4.
“That is not as impossible as it sounds,” Ogden said. “The devil is in the details, and the committee is to get into the details.”
At the seven-member subcommittee’s first meeting on Tuesday, chairman Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said quick action is needed.
“This will be a very intense two weeks,” Duncan said. “This task is one of the most important things we will do this session.”
The additional funds would help cover a revenue shortfall over the next two fiscal years estimated at between $15 billion and $23 billion.
Gov. Rick Perry has insisted he would veto any new taxes or legislative attempts to use the state’s $9.1 billion rainy-day fund to resolve the budget gap.
Without the additional money, Ogden said, lawmakers would have to slash spending for public education and social services.
“If you can find it, then we can write a pretty darn good budget for the state of Texas,” Ogden said. “If you can’t, then we’ll take that up.”
“I know y’all can do it,” he added.
Ogden said there are $21 billion of non-Treasury state funds, some of which could be certified and used in the fiscal 2012-13 biennial budget. He said that total includes $3.2 billion of proceeds from the national tobacco lawsuit settlement.
Available options outlined by Ogden include further budget cuts, the elimination of some tax exemptions, transfers from dedicated funds such as endowments and educational reserves, and more efficient collection of state taxes.
Ogden said the committee would also look at increases in state permits and fees, the sale of surplus state property, and higher tuitions at state colleges and universities.
“There are no sacred cows,” Ogden told the Finance Committee. “Everything is on the table.”
Ogden noted that Monday was the 60th day of the 140-day regular legislative session. The Legislature would not meet again in regular session until January 2013.
“We need to move forward,” he said. “This is almost halftime, and you just got my halftime speech.”
The other members of the committee are Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Royce West, D-Dallas; Tommy Williams, R-the Woodlands; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.