Center for Public Policy
For the first time in six years, state legislators can afford to pay for the state’s major obligations, so naturally the emerging argument in the last two weeks has been an increasing emphasis on not trying to meet the education and infrastructure demands of this growing state.
As deadlines loom in Austin, state legislators demonstrated last week that they are perfectly willing to throttle down on approving on what everyone thought was agreed-upon priorities in favor of scoring ideological and partisan points.
The brief death of the Texas Lottery last Tuesday – and a couple of failed attempts to kill it again the following day – sent two, maybe three messages that will last beyond the debate about the existence of the Texas Lottery Commission.
Perhaps, in a few months, all of those people who get in your way while you’re driving because they’re texting will need to spend a little more time paying attention to the road, though in this case it’s because they would be looking out for the police.
With the exception of one major education bill and a couple of technical, but important items of local interest, most of the last week’s legislative activity amounted to a ramp-up for the session’s more difficult topics and a lot of one-on-one advocacy outside the posted meetings.
As this is written, the most important thing to note from last week is that the Texas Rangers came into their home opener with a 2-1 record and two shutouts in a row under their belts.
Even with five work days crammed into three, state legislators had their most significant week of the 83rd session in the week before Easter.
Last Monday marked the halfway point in the 83rd Legislative Session. At that point, exactly one substantive piece of state business has been addressed – funding programs in the budget that were left without enough money two years ago.
For Arlington transportation advocates, the most interesting developments of the last week didn’t happen in Austin, though one of them triggered a response in Austin.
Texas senators will join the education funding debate for the first time this session today, while last week lawmakers heard about the critical nature of some state economic development incentives, and an upcoming hearing in a Senate committee will at least focus on something that spans the partisan divide: Beer.
Education issues in Austin picked up momentum last week, the first step toward paying this year’s Medicaid bill sailed through the Texas House and a public conversation during a transportation forum revealed wide differences—and signaled a difficult path forward – in how to fix the state’s infrastructure revenue problems.
The first effort at making substantive headway in the Texas Legislature will come to the House floor Thursday in the form of a budget bill to cover payments to Medicaid providers for the last few months of the current state budget year.
Committees in both houses of the Texas Legislature slowly started moving last week, with House members receiving their appointments on the last day of January and senators coming back to town after a long weekend.
The major priorities of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Metro 8 Chambers of Commerce were same issues on most everyone’s mind when the Arlington and HEB chambers visited with legislators, agency officials and business trade associations during the Team Arlington trip to Austin last week.
Two weeks after electing a Speaker of the House and then breaking for a presidential inauguration, the wheels in the Texas Legislature slowly started to turn last week.
For the fifth consecutive legislative session, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce – joined this year by the HEB Chamber—plans to take members to Austin early in the 83rd Legislative Session to meet with legislators and agency staff on policy issues important to the Chamber.
An emerging discussion among state officials concerns the money Texas collects in fees for specific purposes, and then doesn’t spend it. This was raised at an Arlington Chamber of Commerce luncheon by Austin Senator Kirk Watson in 2010, and it’s finally got the attention of state leaders, or at least House Speaker Joe Straus and Governor Rick Perry.
When Texas Legislators hit Austin for the 83rd Legislative Session January 8 next year, they will face a considerably smoother path than the one they traveled two years ago. That’s the case if one considers the growing increases in state revenue and doesn’t look too hard at the costs that a cycle of deep budget-cutting, deferred attention to major issues and population growth places on the budget.
This summary was provided Friday from the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association:
Lynn Moak, a name partner of Moak, Casey and Associates, testified that the Legislature reduced funding to school districts by $5.4 billion in the current biennium. At the same time, 9th grade students were taking the more rigorous end of course tests under the new State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests in a transition from the TAKS test to STAAR. He stated that 47% of all students – 31% of non-economically disadvantaged students and 60% of economically disadvantaged students—failed at least one end-of-course test. These students required remediation, either during the summer or during the current school year, which is expensive for school districts and disrupts class scheduling, making it more difficult for students to graduate on time. Mr. Moak testified that in order to supply school districts with the needed resources to address this problem, it would require an additional $8.5 billion per year – restoring the $2.5 billion in annual cuts from the last biennium, plus an additional $1,000 per weighted student. When asked if he could prove that this additional funding would lead to increased student performance, Mr. Moak said he could not. State attorneys pointed out that Texas ranks 12th on the “Quality Counts National Report Card” which measures 8th grade student performance on the NAEP tests.
For the second time in three weeks, state officials with oversight of the budget, insurance and Medicaid programs took testimony from agency leaders on how the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) will affect insurance coverage, the Medicaid program and the state budget.
Members of the Senate’s Health and Human Services and State Affairs committees took more than four hours to discuss those issues with Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman and Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs.
A meeting already set for last Thursday on Texas’ health-care spending became the first organized hearing for state legislators to discuss the implications of constitutional federal health-care reform, and of Governor Rick Perry’s decision to disavow participation in that program.
One immediately clear implication of not participating is a shift of costs for caring for uninsured Texans from the state Medicaid program to private, not-for-profit hospitals and taxpayer-supported public hospitals located primarily in urban areas, such as John Peter Smith Hospital in Tarrant County.
Texans may get a reprieve from last summer’s blazing temperatures and better rainfall, but when it comes to cooling off we are still facing long-term questions about having enough electricity to run our air conditioners and enough water to do, well, much of anything.
Most of the state’s power plants are cooled by water. When temperatures go up and drought kicks in, those plants are required to run overtime precisely when the resource to cool them is least available, according to testimony at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing right before the July 4th holiday. A presentation on water use with power plants from Trip Doggett, President of the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, can be found by clicking here.
No matter how the Supreme Court ruled on federal health care changes, new questions were bound to arise. Now that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld as constitutional, the what-happens-next questions come into sharper focus. Leaving aside the politics, Texas state officials have several decisions to make regarding health-care exchanges and the treatment of uninsured populations. But most importantly, how the ruling affects the state’s Medicaid budget will occupy Austin legislators and bureaucrats for the rest of the summer.
The Texas Tribune has a well-thought-out summary of when and how some of those decisions may be made. You may read that summary by clicking here.
Just because water always runs out of the tap and the lights turn on when throw the switch doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Future access to abundant, moderately priced energy in the United States is achievable but by no means guaranteed unless government agencies and the public gain a better understanding of the obstacles to increased investment in energy production.
After a year of bone-dry weather and near-record heat, recent rains have created the impression in some minds that last year’s drought is over and we can return to water consumption on a whenever-we-need –it basis. But local and state officials all caution that our water needs over the long term will not be met without conservation, planning and the state spending some money.
Click here to view our industry clusters letter and meeting dates.
What a difference a few months and a retirement decision can make. State education leaders, both appointed and elected, have mutually decided to put a hold on how the first year of the state’s new testing system in public schools will be counted toward graduation requirements. In short, it won’t.
The Texas political primary schedule could get blown up today, barring some very unlikely moves by the two major political parties. The panel of federal judges in San Antonio that is charged with drawing interim maps indicated that the April 3 primary date can’t be met if they don’t receive agreed-upon maps for Congress, the Texas House and Texas Senate by the close of business today.
Center for Public Policy Advisory Council
- New York Avenue Strategy
- Texas Highway 360 Maps and Agreement
- Existing Zoning Ordinance Analysis
- New Zoning Ordinance Draft
- Division Street Market Analysis
- What to Expect in the 2013 Legislative Session
- Medicaid Expansion
- 2013 State Legislative Agenda
- Economic Impact of Medicaid Expansion
- House Committee Assignments 83rd Legislature
- Supplemental Budget Bill
- Texas Taxes and Manufacturing
- Unpaid toll collections
- Billy Hamilton Report on Medicaid Impact
- UT Regents Interfering in Daily Operations at UT Austin?
- Texas Losing Gambling Money to Neighboring States
- Highway Funding Falls Off A Cliff
- Proposed “Texas Solution” for Medicaid
- Billions of Dedicated Funds Unspent
- Changing Demographics in Texas and Implications for the Future
- Federal Infrastructure Needs and Costs
- Medicare and Medicaid Cost Presumptions
- Mobility 2035
- Possible Solutions to Texas Water Shortages
- Regional Connectivity: Michael Morris
- Texas Institute for Education Reform “Target 2020” Presentation
- The Texas Margins Tax
- United Way 2-1-1 Stats Report