Bent on making his Republican rival's gubernatorial record a liability, Al Gore is using recent reports of problems in Texas as a way to blast the record of Texas governor George W. Bush.
Gore railed at the GOP presidential candidate over a newly projected budget shortfall of more than $600 million in the Texas governor's home state. The vice president says Bush needs to deal with the Texas shortfalland not leave it to the federal government to straighten out.
In a speech at Saturday's meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council in Baltimore, the vice president and Democratic presidential hopeful charged the deficit is the result of Bush having implemented tax cutsmany of them for the richat the expense of state programs, many serving children and the poor.
"Instead of taking up legislation dealing with children's health care, Gov. Bush made a tax break for the oil industry the very first bill he signed that year," Gore declared. "Now, I don't really know how many oil executives in Texas lack health insurance, but I can tell you this: A lot of children in Texas do."
The vice president warns that Bush's brand of economics on the national level would be a recipe for disaster: eating up the record budget federal surplus and funds for the needy while putting the brakes on the fast-growing U.S. economy.
"We can't afford to go back to the days of deficits, debt and economic decline," Gore said in the speech delivered to the moderate group he helped found 15 years ago. "As America begins this new century with the biggest surpluses ever, Texas's budget surpluses are rolling away like tumbleweed."
"How did this happen?" Gore asked. "Well, last year, Gov. Bush pushed through a $1.7 billion tax cut that served the powerful interests."
Bush, speaking with reporters earlier this week, defended the tax cuts, saying, "I did the right thing."
He then added, "I think it is a little early to project the amount of money the legislature will be dealing with. And as you know, I hope I'm not here to have to deal with it."
Gore, who has sought throughout this presidential campaign to cast himself as the better-qualified steward of the national economy and federal budget, pounced on Bush's words, saying "With all due respect to Gov. Bush, America can't afford to deal with it, either."
Gore played on the state's motto of "Don't mess with Texas," to sum up Bush's state budget problems. Gore quipped, "Let's tell him to leave the mess in Texas."
Bush says Gore is guilty of misrepresenting the facts if he wants people to believe that Texas' surplus has been wiped out.
The Texas governor has defended his record, saying "Ours is a balanced-budget state and we've always balanced the budget."
New figures released in Austin, Texas projected a budget deficit in Texas's current two-year budget of between $610 million to $750 million.
Crtics promptly blamed it on what Bush has proudly hailed as the biggest tax cuts in state history. But others attribute it to unexpected expenditures in some state programs.
Bush aides note that traditionally there are unexpected expenditures, and the Texas legislature routinely handles it by approving supplemental spending bills.
But the current shortfall is projected to be nearly triple those rung up the past few years, and will require the state to dig deep into its current surplus of $1 billion.
The vice president's remarks seized on a report in Friday's Dallas Morning News that said more than 1 million Texas children who qualified for federally funded summer nutrition programs last year went unserved. And, the Texas Department of Human Services left $33 million in federal school-lunch programs unused, the newspaper reported.
"This week, as Governor Bush was traveling from photo-op to photo-op, trying to put the compassion into his conservatism, we learned that he failed to use tens of millions of dollars budgeted to feed poor and hungry children during the summer months," said Gore.
"Just because school is out doesn't mean that hunger takes a summer vacation or that leadership can go on leave," he added.
In response, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said the Texas governor has increased the number of children served over the summer from 175,000 in 1996 to 259,000 this year and has already acted to spend $2 million more on outreach to further bolster participation.
"The worse Al Gore does in the polls, the more he continues to attack and that's why his credibility deficit continues to grow," Bartlett said.
Bush's spokesman also rebutted Gore's other claim: He pointed out that since Bush took office in 1995, he has steadily increased funding for the poor, and that the bulk of the record $1.7 billion in tax cuts signed into law by Bush went to homeowners, small businesses and ordinary consumersnot wealthy Texas oilmen as Gore had suggested.