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State has $4.3 billion surplus

In February, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn presented the detailed tables for the revenue estimate that she used to certify the General Appropriations Act for 2006-07 and other appropriations bills approved, to date, by the 2005 Legislature.

Strayhorn said the certification revenue estimate is not an update of her revenue forecast, except to reflect the actions of the regular and two called sessions of the 2005 Legislature and actual revenue totals for 2005.

A total of $4.3 billion in General Revenue-related funds are available to be appropriated or re-appropriated, Strayhorn said.

"This estimate includes a $1.2 billion increase in revenues for fiscal 2005, as I reported September 1, 2005," Strayhorn said. "It also includes $800 million in growth in the General Revenue account balances."

The estimate reflects a contingency appropriation of approximately $1.8 billion earmarked for public education, but not yet spent, Strayhorn said.

An additional $473 million that was appropriated is still available for budget execution by the governor and Legislative Budget Board, or may be directly re-appropriated by the Legislature, Strayhorn said.


Comptroller initiates audit of lobbying firm

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in January initiated an audit of the expenditures in the contract between the Office of State-Federal Relations and Cassidy & Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, after questions were raised concerning the firm's lobbying practices.

"As the state's chief fiscal officer I am committed to making sure tax dollars are spent wisely and in absolute accordance with the law," Strayhorn said. "If during my audit I find that Cassidy & Associates inappropriately used tax dollars, I will immediately suspend all future payments and take the necessary steps to make sure these dollars are returned to the state."

The current contract between Cassidy & Associates and the Office of State-Federal Relations runs from Nov. 16, 2005 through Aug. 31, 2007.


Strayhorn finds TRCC functions as builder protection agency

In January, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn found that the Texas Residential Construction Commission functions as a homebuilder protection agency and lacks the authority to enforce its own building standards.

"It is clear that the Texas Residential Construction Commission functions as a builder protection agency," Strayhorn said. "I am deeply troubled by what I found in my review of the Texas Residential Construction Commission.

"In a homeowner survey conducted by my office, I found that 86 percent of homeowners who responded said their builder failed to fix construction defects in their homes."

The Texas Residential Construction Commission was created during the tort reform movement by the 2003 Legislature as a mechanism for resolving disputes between homeowners and builders without costly litigation.


Sales tax collections up 12 percent

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said in February that January's state sales tax collections got a boost from a strong economy, holiday sales and the rebuilding process that continues in Southeast Texas following Hurricane Rita. The state collected $1.5 billion in sales tax revenue, up 12 percent from January 2005.

Strayhorn returned $572.9 million in local sales tax to Texas cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 13.9 percent compared with February 2005.

January state sales tax collections and February's local sales tax allocations primarily represent sales made in December, but include earlier sales by businesses that report sales tax to the Comptroller.