Perry reasserts opposition to expanding gambling in Texas

AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry on Monday reiterated his opposition to expanding gambling in Texas, saying he remains confident that lawmakers can balance the budget by cutting spending and avoiding new taxes, despite worsening projections about the state's budget shortfall.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram on the eve of the 2011 legislative session, Perry said he expects "every agency and every program" to come under scrutiny by lawmakers as they decide which services are priorities and which can be cut.

He also said that voters, both in Texas and nationally, sent a "very clear" message in the November elections: "Don't spend money that we don't have on programs we don't want."

The 82nd Legislature convenes at noon today to begin a 140-day biennial session expected to be dominated by efforts to craft a balanced budget in the face of a shortfall that some experts say could reach $27 billion. Others say the shortfall could be closer to $12 billion to $16 billion.

Texas' budget problems have fueled momentum among gaming advocates, who hope to convince lawmakers that expanding gambling could generate billions of dollars in added revenue to help offset the budget crunch.

Forty-five percent of Texans favor legalizing casinos and allowing slot machines at racetracks, including Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, to raise revenue, according to a new survey by the Star-Telegram and other newspapers; 34 percent oppose expanding gambling.

Perry, who has opposed past efforts to broaden gambling, said he has not changed his position. "I have consistently been an opponent to expanding the gambling footprint in Texas and continue to maintain that position," he said.

But a spokesman for gaming interests said Perry's support isn't essential, since their proposal would be in the form of an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would be decided by voters.

"We're asking the legislators to let the voters decide," said Scott Dunaway, a spokesman for the Texas Gaming Association. A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers in the Republican-dominated Legislature to be placed on the November ballot. Unlike legislation, which the governor can either sign into law or veto, a constitutional amendment does not need the governor's consent, Dunaway said.

Perry, who will be inaugurated next week to an unprecedented third four-year term, has been touted as a possible 2012 presidential contender, but he insists that he has no interest. "Nothing's changed," he said.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, said it's far too early to discuss whether he would seek another term in 2014. "That's way down the road," he said. "We'll just leave that laying there."

Despite the crush of big issues, Perry said he believes that lawmakers can complete their work during the 140-day regular session and won't require him to call a special session.

Dave Montgomery is the

Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294

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