On Thursday, 47 Texas House Democratic lawmakers joined the call for Gov. Rick Perry to restore $154 million cut from the state budget for public community and junior colleges, terming his line-item veto an “unwise decision.”
Earlier this summer, Perry used his line-item veto authority to strike higher education employees group insurance contributions for public community and junior colleges from the fiscal year 2009 funding.
The veto has drawn harsh criticism from leaders all across the state, Democrats noted in a press release issued Thursday.
Without the funds, community and junior college officials say they may be forced to raise local taxes, tuition and fees, and or cut instructional services.
In a joint-letter to Perry, Democratic House members requested that he use his legal authority to reverse the veto’s effect and restore the funds needed by all 50 Texas public community colleges.
The letter compares Perry’s veto to a “tax increase on middle-class Texans who are working hard to build better lives by obtaining a community or junior college education.”
“Texas must truly invest in public education if we want to secure a better tomorrow,” House Democratic Caucus chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco said. “Gov. Perry’s unwise decision to veto these funds will harm hard-working Texas families.
“With so many community leaders across Texas calling on him to act responsibly, hopefully he will see the light and correct his mistake,” Dunnam said.
The governor, in conjunction with the Legislative Budget Board, has the statutory and constitutional authority to replace the $154 million. House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, as the joint-chairs of the LBB, must also agree to restore the funds.
There is ample time for the governor and LBB to take action since the vetoed funds were appropriated for the 2008-2009 school year, Democratic leaders said, noting, however, community and junior colleges will soon begin to set their budgets for that year and, with the governor’s veto of these funds, may be forced to plan for increasing taxes or cutting educational services.
There is no meeting set for the LBB at this time.
Dewhurst is in favor of restoring the funds, having made a public plea Wednesday for state leaders to find a way to reallocate the money.
Perry has said he rejected the money because of a provision that would have made health insurance allocations to college employees based on their salaries.
“I want this issue addressed now … before the impact of these funding cuts are felt,” Dewhurst wrote in a Wednesday letter to senators.
Lawmakers were not able to agree on a solution to college funding in the legislative session that ended in May and they’re not scheduled to meet again until 2009.
“The governor welcomes input from lawmakers and has already begun working with the Higher Education Coordinating Board and community college leaders … to work toward a solution to meet the needs of our colleges,” said Perry spokesman Krista Moody in a statement reported by the Associated Press. “With that said Gov. Perry has continuously proposed additional funding for community colleges, however, he wants to ensure that solutions are proposed within the spirit of the law.”
Dewhurst has said he will designate a working group of state senators, staff from Perry’s office and community college representatives to find a solution.