Naked City

Carole Tattles on the Lege

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton "See Grandma Run!" Strayhorn returned to the headlines last week, issuing a mischievous report -- "Texans to Pay $2.7 Billion More Under New State Laws" -- to coincide with the Sept. 1 effective date of most new state legislation. Strayhorn itemized the "new and higher fees, charges, and out-of-pocket expenses" resulting from the 78th Legislature that, its leadership repeatedly brags, "solved a $10 billion deficit and balanced the budget without raising taxes." "As fiscal watchdog for our taxpayers," Strayhorn declared, "I want Texans to know who's picking up the tab and how much that tab will be." Moreover, the $2.7 billion does not include strictly agency-based fee increases, nor anticipated costs that are not yet calculable. Some of the latter may be considerable -- like the potential rise in state university tuition following deregulation.

The big-ticket items include $1.08 billion untaxed out of the pockets of teachers and school employees (between a cut to their health care stipend and a raise in their retirement premiums); $596 million in other health care assessments, including $4.8 million in fees on rural doctors (the same folks anointed as poster children for tort reform); $71.5 million extracted from parents (mostly in increased costs for C.H.I.P. participants); and $36.4 million in fees assessed against a variety of businesses and professions. Some of the fee increases are also imposing. The license fee for a resident youth camp rose from $40 to $750, an increase expected to raise $737,000; the State Board of Medical Examiners will hike fees on physicians sufficient to net $36 million; and another $200 million will come from surcharges on motor vehicle transfers (the state's predictably regressive way of doing something about air pollution).

House Speaker Tom Craddick dismissed the report as a cheap shot from the comptroller, who in January had complained that the last Lege had gone on a "spending spree," and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst simply shrugged, "It appears that the Republican primary season has begun." (Nobody knows precisely what office Strayhorn is running for, but few doubt she is running for something.) The funniest exchange occurred between Strayhorn and Attorney General Greg Abbott, who angrily called "factually and legally incorrect" Strayhorn's jab that "Momma's now going to have to pay a locator fee to find a deadbeat dad" (among other new child-support related costs). Strayhorn's response? She told Abbott to check his own attorney general Web site. Gotcha.

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Carole Keeton Strayhorn, comptroller, Tom Craddick, David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott

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