Budget Cuts Up To 20%, Further Openings On Radar For Texas COVID-19 Strategy

Update: Abbott unveils more details to gradually loosen COVID-19 restrictions. Will not issue new shelter order. Details at gov.texas.gov/opentexas

Texas officials may be gearing up for budget cuts of up to 20% per department and state Senate COVID-19 recovery working groups have been appointed as Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to release further re-opening details this afternoon.

Abbott scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m. to lay out further details on how state government will allow loosening coronavirus/COVID-19 restrictions including hospital operations parameters, as he previously announced for this date.

Abbott previously said a third round of openings would be announced in May when it has been determined that the transmission rate has continued to decline. More recently, on Friday, non-essential retail stores were allowed to begin offering pick-up, to-go, and curbside sales.

According to several sources, Abbott said in anticipation of the 2021 Legislature’s budget crafting cycle he would be asking for state agencies and departments to identify 20% of expenses to cut. But according to Texas politics blog Quorum Report, it is unclear how much Abbott would ask for, but made it quite clear that today (Monday) will be the day of many details for further re-opening.

By contrast, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, though on his way out of office, suggested 5% cuts and appointed a Democrat on the left wing of her party to the powerful Legislative Budget Board.

Over the previous week, Abbott announced the unveiling of a COVID-19 test sites map, the availability of housing assistance funds, training for local governments on how to best distribute federal assistance dollars, and $54 million in federal dollars to support older persons and the disabled.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed the members of the Texas Senate to various “think tank” style working groups to address COVID-19.

“As with all Senate work groups, the purpose of these work groups is to discuss challenges and options, not to craft legislation,” Patrick noted in a press release. “Every senator is participating, and I am in regular contact with them on these discussions and I will continue to discuss these issues with them as we move forward.” See the list below.

From the hip: Though states like Georgia are further ahead on the re-opening timeline, Texas is the No. 2 most populous state and the stakes are much higher for any miscalculations. Gov. Abbott is, and always has been, a careful decision-maker. While those hungry for an immediate relaxing of coronavirus restrictions have accused him of dithering, there appears to be a lot going on behind the scenes.

As one example, and according to Quorum Report, Abbott is seeking guidance from the U.S. Treasury on how $11.2 billion in CARES Act funding can be spent without any “clawbacks” (i.e. money demanded to be paid back, which could be a nightmare for state budget-makers). And there’s also the matter of keeping peace with the Trump Administration, which is no small task, even for Georgia.

Ever cautions, Abbott keeps his cards close. We can only wonder what today’s presser will reveal. For those keeping score at home, the members of the Senate working groups are:

Economic Impact & Budgeting
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston
Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown

Senate Pandemic Preparedness
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston
Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston

Public Schools & Higher Ed
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe
Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney
Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson

Health, Hospitals & COVID-19 Issues
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham
Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway
Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels
Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown
Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston

Jobs & Re-Opening the Economy
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville
Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas
Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock

Food Supply Chain, Food Banks & Agriculture
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo
Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio
Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood
Sen. Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville



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