It’ll take more than words, but Texas House Speaker Joe Straus drew an unequivocal line in the sand this morning by telling the powerful Appropriations Committee that he expected them to draw up a “no-new-taxes” state budget.

The speaker said the legislature and state agencies would face “hard choices” in cutting spending, but that such efforts will pay for the state’s economy.

“We cannot afford business as usual,” he said. “Every cost-savings idea must be on the table.”

Speaker Straus’ comments opened the Appropriations Committee meeting, as lawmakers begin crafting a budget that won’t allow as much growth as the past. It is forecasted the state will have a $10 billion to $15 billion budget shortfall — which is not the same thing as a deficit. A shortfall presumes revenues not collected and spending not approved. A deficit occurs when the decision is made to actually spend beyond revenues.

The Texas Constitution requires a balanced budget.

“I know our state’s economy is doing better than some others,” said Mr. Straus. “[But] we have not been immune from results of the recession.”

Mr. Straus said lawmakers also need to keep the budget tight because the state can now expect “huge new mandates” resulting from the Obama Administration socializing health care.

His policy words are reassuring (even if his political actions this week are less so).

In Texas, the starting place for the budget rotates between the House and Senate. This year, it starts in the House. Speaker Straus’ Appropriations Committee chairman, Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), has a mixed record of being able to say “no” to folks wanting more money.

Hopefully by addressing the members in a clear and direct fashion, Straus will shore up Mr. Pitts’ budgetary resolve.

It might be a stretch, but I also hope Mr. Straus is communicating to the body’s Democrats that the Speaker’s Office will actively oppose an increase to taxes on his watch.

Let’s be clear: Speaker Straus’ comments were welcome news to the ears of families, small business owners and investors worried about higher federal taxes and mandates.

Even though Texas was the last in, and will be the first out, of the national recession, the lingering effects have been painful for many. Rather than compound the pain and impede economic recovery with even more burdensome costs of state government, Speaker Straus is setting the right course for Texas by demanding a ‘no new taxes’ budget for the new biennium.

That commitment, shared by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, will serve to empower our citizens and encourage an even more robust economic climate for all Texans. By controlling spending and keeping our tax burden steady, Texas’ economy will continue to lead the nation.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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