The 86th Texas Legislature has convened in Austin with virtually no drama. Even the election of a new House Speaker went off without a hitch.
Rep. Dennis Bonnen was elected to the Speaker’s Chair with bipartisan support.
Comptroller Glen Hegar provided his budget forecast for the next 2 years. Hegar says we’ll start with a budget that’s 8% healthier than last biennium and includes a $ 4B surplus.
He also says our “Rainy Day” fund will grow to a record amount of $ 15B dollars by the year 2021.
Governor Greg Abbott was sworn in for a 2nd 4-year term with the customary pomp and circumstance and the King of Country headlined the Inauguration. It doesn’t get much better in the Lone Star State.
For the moment, it’s a Love Festival at the State Capitol.
But.. how to spend the money could change that.
There’s consensus that the way we pay for schools needs reform and property taxes need to be lowered.
Hurricane Harvey bills must be paid and a shortfall in Medicaid has to be covered.
The rest will likely go to schools, lowering property taxes, infrastructure, yet more money for Medicaid, and economic development.
The school finance conversation will include emphasis on results and skills training so Texas students can fill the jobs the state is creating in record numbers.
We can dream.
It’s also clear that Texans want lower property taxes; can officials do that without raising other taxes or fees?
The Governor IS expected to ask for a sizable chunk of change for the Texas Enterprise Fund for large jobs projects and a program called “Chapter 312” that allows communities to abate property taxes to bring jobs will be hotly debated.
And the state Constitution says the Legislature must do all of that in the next 140 days (barring a special session that only the Governor can call).
So to use an NFL metaphor, this session will center on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling like education and taxes, with less emphasis on side issues. Let’s hope the session ends as well as it’s started.