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Fiscal Uncertainty

Texas state officials are pointing fingers at each other over a budget shortfall that could leave students using 8-year-old textbooks.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn

It all started when the state board of education was pinning the budget mess on state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican. On May 7, the 15- member board sent a letter to Ms. Strayhorn’s office asking why she had authorized only $7.9 million for the textbook fund, when the legislature had appropriated $75 million.

The board asked that "the full $75 million be made available."

The trouble is that there isn’t that much money available, said Ms. Strayhorn’s May 17 response to the board. "Regrettably, as comptroller, I can’t appropriate dollars," she wrote. This is where things get a bit complicated.

During the second year of its biennial session, the legislature this spring revised how fuel taxes are collected in order to bring in more money for a variety of budget items, including textbooks.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which backed the change, said the new method of collecting the tax would bring in a total of $300 million, $75 million of which would go to textbooks.

But the comptroller and the state budget board disagreed with those rosy projections. "My staff and I told the legislature emphatically and repeatedly that this was a gross overestimate," she wrote in her letter, adding that the transportation department’s estimates were "wishful thinking."

The buck didn’t stop there.

Now, Ms. Strayhorn, who could not be reached for comment, wants to know what the state board of education is saying about her. On May 26, she filed an "open records" request with the board asking that any records of discussions about textbook funding be released to her.

The next day, she fired off a letter to the transportation department, accusing officials there of ducking their responsibility and suggesting that the best course of action to get new textbooks for students would be to ask Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, to appropriate more money from the $279.9 million in general-fund revenue that is available.

"That could end this problem for school districts across the state … today," she wrote.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 20

Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as State Journal

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