FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 6, 2011
Austin — On January 11 the 82nd Legislative Session will begin in Austin. Set to last 140 days during odd-numbered years, the session is the time the Texas Legislature has to pass a two-year budget and any new laws. As a way to help you keep up with important issues during this time, I am writing a column with what I call my five cents, the top things you need to know that are happening at the Texas Capitol each week.
This week we are looking ahead to what will likely be the biggest and most challenging issues for this session.
1. Redistricting - The United States Constitution directs states to draw congressional district lines every 10 years. Texas will not only redraw the lines for existing districts, but because of population growth we will gain four new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. This will bring the Texas Congressional delegation to a total of 36 members. Additionally, the state must draw new lines for Texas House and Senate districts to reflect population growth within the state. This process can result in significant changes. Not only does it determine what political district you live in, it can also change the balance of urban and rural interests in the Legislature.
2. Budget shortfall - As we prepare for the 82nd Legislature, the big question we are all asking is how to resolve the projected budget shortfall. Estimates of how much the shortfall will be have ranged from $15 to $25 billion. Comptroller Susan Combs will likely give the first official estimate next week.
Just like any family or company facing tough times, the state will have to set funding priorities. With the leadership of the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house, agencies have already started this process by making cuts on their current budget, but the Legislature will still have many tough decisions to make.
I believe the best strategy for our state is to cut spending instead of raising taxes. To raise taxes in this economic environment would derail the financial recovery of our state. In tough times like these, it is more important than ever to give Texas businesses the incentive to grow and create jobs. One of the first steps to take is finding greater efficiencies in the state budget, making sure we are getting the most out of every dollar.
3. Education funding - Even with improved efficiencies, additional cuts must still be made. This may mean re-examining how we fund our largest obligations, including education. We will have to find greater efficiencies in both K-12 and higher education. As we look at education funding, I will continue to work with fellow legislators for greater equity in school funding so all children have an opportunity for success, regardless of zip code.
4. Border security - While preventing illegal immigration and stopping drug trafficking are unmet federal obligation, states like Texas must take action to keep our citizens safe and stop escalating violence from spilling over our borders. The Legislature will look at many ways to improve border security including better support for local law enforcement and putting an end to sanctuary cities.
5. States' rights - As the federal government continues to make policies infringing on states' rights to establish their own rules and regulations, many state legislatures are speaking out. Look for calls from the Texas Legislature for the federal government to reverse some healthcare policies, respect Texas' air quality permitting procedures and give Texas fair treatment when it comes to education funding.
As challenging as these five issues may be, they are only a part of what the Legislature will consider over 140 days. I will do my best to update you. Please contact me with your questions, thoughts and concerns. The best way for me to represent you is to hear directly from you.