AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas needs more than tax cuts to thrive and will require investments in education, infrastructure and water to keep growing, House Speaker Joe Straus told the Texas Association of Broadcasters on Monday.
The San Antonio Republican said the state's rapidly growing population and economy means the state must spend more on what he called the government's core responsibilities. The speaker oversees the Texas House and sets the legislative agenda.
"I believe in the importance of cutting spending wherever possible and keeping taxes low," Straus said. "But we also have to recognize that a healthy business climate needs more than low taxes. Job creators want to know that Texas will have water, roads and a work force that they will need in order to thrive."
Straus set out his priorities for the 83rd Legislature a day before Gov. Rick Perry was scheduled to give his State of the State speech. Perry has said state spending on education has been "phenomenal" and suggested that tax cuts might be in order.
The 2011 Legislature cut government services by $27 billion, and Straus said lawmakers will have to restore some of those cuts with a supplemental spending bill in March. Lawmakers shorted Medicaid, the health plan for the poor and disabled, by $4.8 billion, and it will run out of money if a bill isn't passed soon.
"We are in a significantly better fiscal position than we were two years ago," he said. "We're going to have to go back and correct some of the things that we did last session."
Democrats have called on the Legislature to restore $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools. But Straus said he was only committed to funding new enrollments. Legislators are reluctant to make any major changes to school finance until a final ruling in a lawsuit brought by school districts against the state for insufficient funding, he said.
"I want to be a friend to public education, I know the last few years have been difficult," he added.
Straus said quality schools, good roads and clean water should be bipartisan issues. However, he faces persistent criticism from tea party members who complain that a true conservative should push for greater cuts in government spending, not a larger state budget.
Straus easily defeated a tea party challenger in the 2012 Republican primary, and attempts to limit his power as speaker failed dramatically, indications that he has consolidated his power among the 95-member Republican majority in the 150-seat House.