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Economists: Texas Drought Costs Low

August 2, 1998

AUSTIN (AP) _ Financial experts say the drought won’t strangle Texas’ economy despite lawmakers who warn it could significantly reduce the money available for state programs.

``The sky is not falling,″ said Bernard Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of North Texas. ``Unless (the drought) lasts for several years, it won’t have a significant impact.″

Texas Comptroller John Sharp last month estimated the state will have a $6 billion surplus when lawmakers convene in January to set the state’s next two-year budget.

But Republican state Sen. Bill Ratliff urged special interest groups to hold off on spending plans.

``I think we ought to see if ... the agriculture industry in Texas has a complete disaster, whether or not the economy of Texas is going spin off that kind of money,″ he said.

Weinstein and other economists said they doubt the drought will significantly affect the state’s $641 billion economy because agriculture contributes only 1 percent to the total.

``The wonderful thing about the growth in the ’90s is it isn’t tied to a single-sector industry. There is no dominant industry,″ said Jared Hazelton, director of the Center for Business and Economic Analysis at Texas A&M University.

On Saturday, the Dallas-Fort Worth area recorded the 27th consecutive day over 100 degrees, second in the record books to the 1980 streak of 42 days.

The statewide toll of heat-related fatalities has reached 99 with the death of 45-year-old James Taylor of East Austin. Police report that the man had been dead in his home at least four days before he was discovered Friday.

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