Center for Public Policy
One of the big changes in state government from the budget-slashing session in 2011 to the slightly more generous – but by no means big-spending – session in 2013 was the willingness of state leaders to dip into the Economic Stabilization Fund to fill some budget holes and begin work on big-ticket, long-neglected items.
Nothing will get in the way of Texas’ growth quicker than an unreliable water supply. US government debt and spending notwithstanding, a state that can’t meet the water demands of residents and businesses is a state that won’t grow.
In a companion to a single-family housing survey presented to the City Council in June, Arlington planners recently updated council members on the age, condition and location of the city’s multi-family housing stock.
By the time this Chamber of Commerce begins urging voters to approve the transportation funding constitutional amendment on the ballot for next year, we will have already started talking to lawmakers going to Austin in 2015 about how that amendment, if passed, isn’t nearly what’s needed to fix our transportation funding problems.
When Texas House members take the floor today, the most urgent question will be: Can we get out of here?
One bill, two at the most. That’s what separates Texas legislators from having a tiny window of a summer before the political primary season begins after Labor Day.
Given the media hype that all sides have ramped up in the abortion debate in Austin the last two weeks, it’s not a surprise that the significant steps pending on another front – transportation funding – have been invisible unless you’re looking for news about these issues.
Arlington appears to be poised for a potential boom in development and redevelopment; but our existing housing stock – and land available for new housing – may limit the size and value of what that new development could look like.
Depending on your perspective, the 83rd Texas Legislature might have improved business profitability or crippled the state’s ability to deliver services, or something in between.
While state legislators continue to draw their daily per diem during the special session – even when they’re not anywhere near Austin – the actual session itself appears more and more likely to spin out of control and perhaps accomplish nothing.
Sometimes, you just can’t wait to let out that last, exhausted breath that means finality, closure, an ending. And sometimes, just when you’re ready to do that, Rick Perry snatches the opportunity away.
By the time this is available state legislators will either be celebrating the success of substantial accomplishments, leaving Austin as fast as they can or glumly waiting to see how quickly Governor Rick Perry summons them back to finish either important state business or his agenda, or both.
Everything comes down to this week.
After 133 days of hearings, testimony, lofty goals and crushed hopes, the Texas Legislature seems poised with seven days to go to pass a budget, fix education, punt water funding to the voters and get out of town.
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.
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
- Bullet Points, Arlington Lofts
- Arlington Multi-Family Housing Profile
- New York Avenue Strategy
- Ride the MAX- Metro ArlingtonXpress
- Housing Supply Presentation to Arlington City Council, June 4 2013
- 2012 Single-Family Housing Profile
- Texas Highway 360 Maps and Agreement
- Existing Zoning Ordinance Analysis
- New Zoning Ordinance Draft
- The Texas Budget and the Energy Boom
- Speaker Straus on State Transportation Funding
- Texas Taxes and Manufacturing
- Economic Impact of Medicaid Expansion
- 2013 State Legislative Agenda
- How States that Rejected Medicaid Expansion Sabotaged Their Biggest Cities
- Guide to the Affordable Care Act
- Billy Hamilton Report on Medicaid Impact
- 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
- The Texas Margins Tax
- United Way 2-1-1 Stats Report