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Morrison says budget shortfall biggest challenge

By Gabe Semenza
Dec. 23, 2010 at 6:23 a.m.

Geanie Morrison

MORE ON MORRISON Pre-filing for bills began Nov. 8. The 82nd Texas Legislative Session begins Jan. 11.

Since November, Morrison authored one bill - potential legislation that gives women, who consider abortion, the right to a sonogram at the clinic.

"I think it's very important because this is a decision not to be taken lightly. This is a human life," Morrison said. "I just want a woman to have everything she needs to know when she's facing a difficult decision."

Morrison said she is also working on other bills, primarily economic development related, with local and state ramifications. Because of the sensitive nature of such discussions, she declined to specify what she hopes the bills accomplish.

The complete list of pre-filed bills - including Morrison's - are available at www.capitol.state.tx.us.

Legislative Preview SchedulenDec. 24: Rep. Geanie Morrison

nDec. 25: Senator Glenn Hegar

nDec. 26: Nonprofits and the arts

nDec. 27: Transportation

nDec. 28: Healthcare

nDec. 29: Business

nDec. 30: Law enforcement

nDec. 31: Faith

nJan. 1: Education

nJan. 2: Immigration

nJan. 3: Environment

During the upcoming 2011 session, Texas legislators face a slew of complicated issues, but none bigger than the state's budget shortfall.

That's according to Representative Geanie Morrison, who is no stranger to reconciling massive financial statements.

In 2003, Texas faced a $12 billion budget shortfall. Morrison, R-District 30, was in her fourth year as a legislator.

"We went in and looked at offices and programs, and at those that weren't doing what they were intended to do," she said. "We wanted to make sure we kept providing basic services, but that we also cut those that were inefficient. This year, we're going to have to make even bigger cuts."

Texas faces a budget shortfall of $17 billion to $25 billion, according to estimates from the state's comptroller's office.

From January to May, legislators will decide where to cut, and thus how to best erase the budget gap.

The gap exists because legislators budgeted using projected tax revenues. Those revenues, however, declined because of a lagging economy.

"We're going to have to look at everything and determine if we keep it or not," Morrison said. "If there are programs that show they are inefficient, they'll be gone. You can't spend money on things that aren't working. Our biggest challenge is providing essential services without burdening anyone with additional taxes, especially during this economy."

Morrison said it's too early to know which programs are in jeopardy of the chopping block, and which cuts, if any, will most affect the Crossroads.

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong said he's unaware of looming cuts that could hurt the city. Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said he worries generally about unfunded or under-funded mandates such as indigent defense costs.

While Morrison grapples with the budget, she's also fighting for the region's share of education dollars, she said.

The University of Houston System pledges it will ask the legislature for $61.5 million in state tuition revenue bonds for new academic buildings and $15 million in other funds for startup support.

If awarded, the money would go toward University of Houston-Victoria expansion. Funds from the tuition revenue bonds would be repaid by profits made at the university.

Supporters of expansion say growth at the university would help close the state's education gap and boost Victoria's economy like little else could.

But some, including Pozzi and Commissioner Gary Burns, remain skeptical the legislature will approve such funding during such a down time.

"I'm not real confident we're going to see it here, but I hope I'm wrong," Burns said.

Behind the scenes, Morrison said she works to sway her colleagues.

"I think the story to be told by UHV is very positive," she said. "Look at our location. Look at the students coming to this institution. They are the type of students we need to close the gap in Texas. Nothing's going to be easy because of limited funding, but I can assure you I'm making the case for UHV, and that we need those funds."

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