A conservative, but realistic budget voice

So far, the most positive (if I can use that word) and realistic Republican leadership on the state budget in Austin is coming from Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, who stands head and shoulders above the governor, among many others, on the biggest crisis to face state government in decades.

Make no mistake. Ogden, who also is the Senate’s president pro tem, is a pennysqueezing conservative, and there will be serious spending cuts in the budget that his Finance Committee eventually will draft. But Ogden also is a realist and already is openly talking about trying to balance the budget cuts with new revenue.

In a speech on the session’s opening day, while Gov. Perry was trying to dance around the fiscal crisis, Ogden said lawmakers needed to look at fixing some problems with the state’s underperforming business tax. And yesterday, he talked about spending at least part of the Rainy Day Fund and said Senate leaders may appoint a subcommittee to review tax exemptions.

“In order to get to 21 (Senate) votes, I’ve got to look at everything – including cuts, using the Rainy Day Fund and finding nontax revenue. Before it’s all over, I suspect it (the new budget) will be a combination of the three,” he was quoted online in Texas Monthly.

In Ogden’s mind, closing exemptions to existing taxes, including some school property tax exemptions, would not be a “tax increase,” at least in the political sense of the term.

Another important factor guiding Ogden is the Senate’s twothirds rule, which will require 21 votes to pass any budget bill through the chamber. The 12 Democratic senators alone could block a bill, but budget cuts as deep and extensive as those necessary to bridge the revenue shortfall without new revenue would be offensive to many Republican senators as well.

Republican senators voted to bypass the twothirds rule for the voter ID bill, but most were wise enough to keep it for everything else, including the budget. Despite all the slashandburn rhetoric from the governor’s office and the Tea Party contingent in the Texas House, most senators want to keep the option of protecting their districts from devastating budget cuts as much as possible.

It also is easier for Ogden than some others to stray from the hardright GOP line. He is not contemplating a Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate, as is Lt.Gov. David Dewhurst, or entertaining visions of a presidential campaign, as Gov. Perry may be.

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