AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry gave his public blessing this week to use billions from the state's emergency piggybank to build roads and secure water.
Left unsaid was his belief that spending from the Rainy Day Fund shouldn't stop there.
During his State of the State address Tuesday, Perry called for spending $3.7 billion from the politically thorny fund for one-time infrastructure projects. Not announced to a packed House chamber was that in his budget proposal sent to lawmakers that same day, Perry suggests using nearly another $1 billion from the fund in tax relief.
That Perry is loosening the lid on the Rainy Day Fund at all is noteworthy, following years of caution against using the stockpile of reserve of excess oil and gas revenue. If left untouched, state officials say the fund balance would balloon to $11.8 billion by the end of 2015.
"I think it's a really important message to send out not just across the state, but across the country , that this is a state that's not going to spend all the at it brings in, that it actually is going to do some tax relief," Perry said Wednesday. "Hopefully the Legislature is going to agree that we can change the constitution to allow us to rebate some fees and taxes and such in the future."
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was noncommittal Wednesday about using the fund for tax relief. He said he would review Perry's budget but pointed out how the fund was traditionally used for one-time expenses.
Perry's protection of the Rainy Day Fund in previous years — despite hefty balances — has bewildered Democrats and those wanting to raid the fund to blunt deep state spending cuts.
Now Perry has giving his blessing to use $4.7 billion of the fund — about 40 percent of its balance.
Democratic Rep. Naomi Gonzalez speculated that Perry didn't mention using the fund for tax relief in his State of the State to guard against criticism from both sides of the aisle.
"That is crazy. He didn't want to use it when we were in a $25 billion shortfall," Gonzalez said. "Now all of the sudden he wants to use it fund infrastructure and tax relief?"
Perry's budget does not specify exactly how money from the fund might be used. During his seventh State of the State address as governor, Perry called for $1.8 billion in tax relief but didn't say how the state might do it. Hitting the rest of the target would pull $960 million from general revenue, according to Perry's budget.
Among the ideas in Perry's budget are lowering the sales tax rate, offering an additional sales tax holiday weekend and increasing homestead exemptions on property taxes. A booming state economy handed state lawmakers a record revenue projection of $101.4 billion to spend on the next biennium, and Perry said that prosperity makes this session the right time to take a fresh look at taxes.
"A top priority at times like these must be to provide relief to taxpayers across the state," Perry's budget reads.
Perry's statewide budget proposals calls for $88.9 billion in general revenue spending and mostly mirrors the bill filed earlier this month by the Senate. That includes no new money appropriated to the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which is under criminal investigation and was hammered yet again this week when the state auditor released a scathing report of the agency.
Yet there are differences in Perry's budget. One is $132 million to restock his Emerging Technology Fund, which Perry lists as a "strategic priority." Budget drafts filed by the House and Senate appropriate no new money for the fund, which lost two investments to bankruptcies last year and has been faced with questions over financial performance.
Associated Press Writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber