We're in the Money

Federal stimulus money is headed to Texas – now legislators have to agree on what to do with it

We're in the Money
Photo by Jana Birchum

Federal stimulus dollars are on their way to Texas. On Feb. 18, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying that, while he prefers his own economic panacea of "low taxes, controlled government spending and a predictable regulatory climate," he would still take the money. After all, he wrote, "Throughout the years, Texas taxpayers have sent substantially more dollars to Washington than we receive."

Now it's up to legislators to divide the dollars within the federal restrictions. House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, has been appointed chair of the new nine-member House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding. But on Feb. 24, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Hous­ton, asked Speaker Joe Straus which of the following committees would actually take the lead on building any relevant legislation: Appropriations; the Appropriations Stimulus Subcommittee under Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas; or Dunnam's Select Committee (on which Crownover also sits as vice chair). Straus said that Dunnam's committee will work "in collaboration" with Appropri­a­tions but that it will only make recommendations, not instructions, on how to spend the cash. Dunnam said he supports having the final decision lie with Appropriations through the appropriations bill, and he sees his Select Committee's job as advising relevant committees and the full House. "If we see something that we think needs to be done, we'll make that recommendation, but we won't make the decision," he said.

The reality is that whatever recommendations emerge from the House, the final budget will actually be decided late in the session by the joint House-Senate Conference Committee. But there is broad expectation that many committees will butt heads over spending authority and recommendations before any checks are signed.

Dunnam did not rule out that transparency bills might come through his committee, but he said his main emphasis will be in evaluating the needs of each state agency. What he wasn't prepared to do was pick and choose which federal money to take. Several Republican governors, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, have threatened to reject any money that expands unemployment-insurance coverage, accusing the administration of creating new unfunded mandates. Dunnam rejected this as "a discussion that takes up unnecessary oxygen. ... Every federal dollar has had what people could call strings attached. They don't just give you money so you can wash your car with it."

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federal stimulus, 81st legislature, Rick Perry, House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding, Joe Straus

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