State Comptroller Susan Combs has said tax collections in June were more than 11 percent below collections in June of last year. That could translate into a budget shortfall of $550 million if the economy continues to falter, with only two months left in the fiscal year.
About half the state’s general fund budget is derived from sales taxes on consumer spending, and Texans aren’t spending like they have in recent years. Cities across the state also are wrestling with falling revenues.
Combs said the biggest decline in revenue was from the oil and gas industry, which benefited last year from higher prices and more drilling activity but which has since fallen off.
Lampasas Publisher to Head State Board of Education
Gail Lowe has been named chairwoman of the controversial State Board of Education. Gov. Rick Perry selected Lowe, co-publisher of the Lampasas Dispatch Record, after the Legislature refused to confirm Bryan dentist Don McLeroy, the previous chairman and Perry’s first choice.
Lowe is solidly in the conservative camp on the divided board, but she has remained largely in the background during bruising fights over evolution and teaching the Bible in public schools in Texas.
Board members are already braced for another fight over the social studies curriculum. A curriculum reviewer named by Lowe has said the Bible and religious beliefs should be emphasized in history and government classes.
Board members, elected from 15 districts around the state, select textbooks and set curriculum standards for Texas schools.
UT Poll Shows Perry Ahead in Governor’s Race
A new poll by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin has Perry ahead of Republican challenger U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison among voters who plan to vote in the March 2010 GOP primary. Perry was the choice of 38 percent of those who responded to the pollsters, while Hutchison was the preference of 26 percent.
The wild card, of course, is the huge undecided vote. Fully 34 percent of respondents said they were undecided or planning to vote for someone else. Still, it was good news for Perry after a Rasmussen poll released in May showed him and Hutchison in a dead heat.
Science Curriculum Progressing at UT System Campuses
A program to ramp up science classes at University of Texas campuses around the state has been praised as a great success. The UT System plugged about $3 billion into the effort, which began in 2006. So far, the plan has resulted in 89 new science faculty members and more than 800,000 square feet of new laboratory, clinical and research space, according to system officials.
While only $74 million was spent on hiring and retaining faculty members at the system’s 15 academic and health sciences campuses, those hires have produced millions more in research grants, officials said.
Gonzales lands at Texas Tech
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been appointed a visiting professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general in 2007 after a stormy tenure as head of the Justice Department, will teach a course in contemporary issues in the executive branch.
Gonzales previously served as President George W. Bush’s general counsel in the White House and as a Texas Supreme Court Justice before being confirmed as the country’s first Hispanic U.S. attorney general. He will earn $100,000 at Tech.
Steroid Testing Continues to Find Few High School Abusers
Only eight cases of steroid use among Texas high school athletes were confirmed among the more than 16,200 tested from January through May. Since testing began in early 2008 after the Legislature approved the $6 million measure, more than 45,000 students have been tested for steroid use, and only 19 cases have been confirmed.
Last session, the Legislature cut funding for the program to $2 million over the next two years.
Child Drownings Concern Health Officials
With 63 cases of children drowning in Texas so far this year, health officials are warning Texans to take precautions and never leave children in a pool alone.
Dr. Pat Crocker, chief of emergency medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, said children younger than 4 should never be more than arm’s length from a watching adult. Swimming pools should be covered and fences locked. Children over the age of 13 should learn CPR.