FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2011
Green seemed to be on everyone's mind this last week at the Capitol but not because of St. Patrick's Day. Most are thinking green as in dollars and where the limited dollars in the state budget will go. More than 12,000 citizens visited the Capitol this week to advocate for their legislative and budget priorities.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Governor agrees to limited use of the Rainy Day fund
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry agreed to use $3.2 billion of the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, to bridge a shortfall in the state's current operating budget. The current budget lasts until September and was expected to have a $4.3 billion shortfall. While Perry remains committed to not using the Rainy Day Fund for the budget the Legislature is currently drafting, closing the current budget gap with some of the emergency fund frees up money for Legislators to use in the upcoming budget cycle.
2. Comptroller Combs increases estimate
Part of what made closing the gap on the current budget easier is a new estimate from Comptroller Susan Combs. Based on improved sales tax numbers, Combs certified that $300 million more will be available for the current budget cycle than was expected in January. This takes the expected budget gap from $4.3 to $4 billion. The $3.2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund will make up a large part of that shortfall with an additional $800 million in cuts to address the rest.
3. Transportation bill protecting local control passes committee
On Wednesday, the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passed a bill of mine that will preserve local control related to toll roads. Senate Bill 19 makes sure local officials always have the authority to determine if a project is to be tolled and also have the first option to build it. The bill sets up a streamlined process so that future projects can be delivered in a more efficient manner. Senate Bill 19 will help eliminate congestion while ensuring local officials always have an opportunity to determine the fate of these type of transportation projects. Senate Bill 19 is the result of the private toll road moratorium I filed four years ago which stopped the practice of private operation of toll roads and shut down projects that were part of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.
4. First non-emergency bills pass in the House and in the Senate
Constitutionally, neither the House or the Senate chamber can pass legislation in the first 60 days of a session unless the bill relates to items put on the emergency call by the Governor. This week was the first week bills did not have to be designated as an emergency item. The Senate passed several bills including those to improve the safety of individuals in state supported living centers, improve criminal identification procedures, and protect the privacy of medical patients.
5. Protecting citizens' second amendment rights
One of the bills passed by the Senate this week is Senate Bill 321 which would prevent employers from adopting policies to deny certain Second Amendment protections to their employees. This bill allows employees who wish to store legally owned firearms in their locked vehicle in the parking lot of their workplace. This allows employees to exercise their second amendment rights to and from work without limitation because of workplace parking policies. The measure passed the Texas Senate by a vote of 30 to 1.