Expecting Lawmakers to Mainly Address Issues from Budget to Public Education
The fun started Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 – when the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature convened in Austin. Most likely this session will have a hidden Anti-Shariah Bill.
This session will feature some familiar faces and familiar issues. But, there also will be more than 40 new faces in this yearâ€™s edition of the legislature, and some new chairs in some very important committees.
Hereâ€™s an overview of what are sure to be among the major issues legislators will discuss in the 140-day session:
Public Education – The state is currently involved in a lawsuit joined by many school districts across the state alleging the stateâ€™s system of providing an adequate and equitable education for all students in the public schools in Texas is flawed. Legislators will tackle the school funding issue again (but it may not be until a special session, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit), and whether they will return the more than $5 billion they cut from public education funding in the last legislative session. The school accountability system and student testing are also likely to be hot-button education items of discussion.
Higher Education – While the governor wants Texans to be able to get a college education for $10,000, many colleges and universities are dealing with escalating tuition rates and fee increases to help make up loss of state funding. As the student population increases on state-supported campuses, they could get some help with building new facilities to keep up with that growth if a pre-filed bill passes allowing the use of tuition revenue bonds (TRBs).
TRBs are repaid by the revenue of the project for which the bond was issued or a revenue stream provided by income from tuition charges, rental fees, etc. paid by students or those who use the facilities.
Water â€“ After unimaginable droughts in 2011, House Speaker Joe Straus has indicated water issues will be among the top issues on his legislative agenda. In addition to insufficient water supplies, government entities are also facing water and wastewater infrastructure that is aging and needs serious maintenance or replacement. And thereâ€™s the $53 billion state water plan that has yet to be funded. A dip into the Rainy Day fund? Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says that could happen.
Health Care â€“ Delivery of health care to the uninsured and under-insured will likely be a major issue. Lawmakers will discuss whether they will expand the Medicaid program. Gov. Perry has indicated he is against that expansion. Perry also has said Texas will not create a state health care insurance exchange. If the state does not create such an exchange, the federal government will establish and operate one in the state. Lawmakers will also deal with what looks like it will be an approximately $4.7 billion deficit in state general revenue funding for Medicaid. Another Rainy Day fund dip?
Transportation â€“ Texas is no different than other states that are dealing with a crumbling transportation infrastructure. But, because the state is so big, itâ€™s roadway and bridge problems are multiplied. There has been discussion of raising taxes and fees (such as an increase in the gas tax, an increase in car registration fees, etc.) to raise more revenue just to deal with maintenance of current infrastructure. When it comes to building new infrastructure, there is likely to be increased discussion of public-private partnerships â€“ turning to the private sector as a new source of revenue for building infrastructure and possibly even maintenance and operation.
Guns in Schools â€“ After the mass casualties last month at a Connecticut elementary school, legislators could discuss allowing some school officials and teachers to carry handguns on campus.
Etc. â€“ Take your pick of other possible (or probable) issues legislators may address: anti-shariah bill, school vouchers, state employee retirement and health benefits, casino and/or online gaming, foster care, financial aid for higher educationâ€¦and that pesky, but hallowed, Rainy Day Fund.