Craddick Supports Restoring Community Colleges Funding

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AUSTIN — House Speaker Tom Craddick said he'll work with other state leaders to find a way to reallocate $154 million in vetoed funds for community college health insurance.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the funds in June, drawing anger from community college officials across the state. They've said they'll have to consider tuition increases, local tax increases or restricting enrollment.

Perry rejected the money because of a provision that would have made health insurance allocations to college employees based on their salaries. He also said colleges misrepresented the number of employees eligible for state-funded group health benefits.

In a letter to Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Craddick said he understands the governor's concerns and wants to work with him and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to restore the funding.

"I can assure you we will be ready to announce a solution to this issue in the very near future," Craddick said in the letter.

Last month, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wrote a letter to senators calling for the funding to be restored.

"I want this issue addressed now ... before the impact of these funding cuts are felt," Dewhurst said at the time.

A Perry spokeswoman said "no solution is off the table. ... He welcomes input from lawmakers and is working with community colleges" to address the issue.

Dunnam, who was traveling out of the country Thursday, had asked Craddick to use the Legislative Budget Board to push the governor into a reversal.

The board, jointly chaired by Dewhurst and Craddick, can decide to reallocate the funds with a majority vote and agreement from Perry.

Craddick said the board can't overturn a line-item veto, but he said there are alternatives, such as shifting funds and then dealing with it later during the 2009 session.

"Ultimately, (your suggestion) may be the method we choose," he said in the letter. "However, there are other options available to us that will accomplish the same result."