Texas Lawmakers Learning Details of Stimulus

Despite stimulus criticism, Perry accepts $17 billion

State leaders are beginning to learn exactly where Texas' $17 billion share of the federal stimulus money is slated to go, including millions to educate homeless children and help poor families pay for child care.

Now lawmakers have to figure out how to get it here. With an array of deadlines and federal restrictions, some state officials are in a frenzy trying to make sure no available money gets left behind. Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he objects to the stimulus package, but said in a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday that he would accept the money.

"On behalf of the people of Texas, please allow this letter to certify that we will accept the funds in H.R. 1 (the stimulus package) and use them to promote economic growth and create jobs in a fiscally responsible manner that is in the best interest of Texas taxpayers," Perry wrote to Obama.

Even while accepting the money, Perry complained that the $787 billion stimulus bill will burden future generations with unprecedented levels of debt.

Texas' share of the package is divided between education, health and human services, transportation, labor, criminal justice, and housing and infrastructure. Education gets the largest share with more than $6 billion, closely followed by health and human services programs, which are slated to get about $5.8 billion, according to a state analysis.

While detailed numbers emerged, Perry and other fiscal conservatives earlier questioned whether Texas should take all the money, even as the state faces a $9 billion revenue gap.

Without the stimulus, Texas lawmakers would be faced with cutting government services and dipping into the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund.

But meeting federal requirements to receive the money is becoming its own quagmire.

For example, some transportation money must be spent within 120 days on projects ready to go. But $5.4 billion in money for Medicaid would be divvied up through the end of 2010. The Legislature must fit each puzzle piece into the 2010-2011 budget, which they're now writing and starts later this year.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republican leader of the Senate, said he had concerns about the growing federal debt but wanted to make sure Texas got its "fair share" of the stimulus package.

"On first blush we all think this package has fewer strings attached" than earlier versions of the bill, Dewhurst said. "Right now we're trying to decipher" the 1,100 page package, he said. "We're trying to read it and understand what we can do with the money."

A special committee, the House committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding, is set to meet Thursday to pore over the details.

Perry has urged caution in how Texas uses the federal money.

For weeks, he opposed the stimulus package while going on the offensive against political rival Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who voted against the bill and has challenged him for the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010.

Perry's camp has criticized Hutchison for her support of President George W. Bush's initial financial industry bailout bill last fall. Perry's spokesman dubbed Hutchison "Kay Bailout" and she has opposed subsequent Obama spending packages aimed at spurring the economy.

Now Perry has accepted the $17 billion.

"I remain opposed to using these funds to expand existing government programs, burdening the state with ongoing expenditures long after the funding has dried up," Perry wrote Wednesday.

"While we differ on solutions to the ongoing economic crisis facing our country, I believe we both share a desire to see our great nation endure as a beacon of freedom and economic vitality to the world."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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