Texas state lawmakers convened Tuesday in the state Capitol for opening day of the 87th Legislative Session of the Texas Legislature.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urged members of the House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, to work together over the next 140 days after he has faced growing criticism from within his own party by members who argue an ongoing 10-month-long COVID-19 lockdown has already gone on long enough.
The legislature is expected to address the state’s $1 billion 2020-2021 biennial budget shortfall, police funding, and a long list of other measures in less than five months.
“Over the next 140 days, we have the opportunity to not only respond to the challenges we face, but we also have an opportunity to put Texas on a trajectory to a future of even greater hope and opportunity,” Abbott said in remarks opening the session. “Now more than ever, Texans need the Legislature to succeed this session. But equally important, America needs Texas to lead the way. If we do this, then we will chart a course towards a healthier, safer, freer, and more prosperous future for every Texan.”
The budget shortfall is less than the $4.6 billion that was originally projected. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar projected the state would have roughly $112.5 billion in available revenue for general-purpose spending for the 2022-23 biennium.
Hegar released his biennial revenue estimate Monday based on the most recently available information.
It “represents our efforts to provide lawmakers with the most accurate forecast possible as they craft the budget for the 2022-23 biennium and the supplemental spending bill to address the remainder of the current biennium,” Hegar said.
Hegar warned lawmakers against increasing spending, saying they would be facing a “difficult choice” when balancing the budget.
“While savings from agency spending cuts and federal funding could help erase the projected shortfall for this biennium, a substantial supplemental appropriations bill could increase it, thereby reducing revenue available for the next biennium,” Hegar said.
One issue on the table is House Bill 3, a sweeping and historic school finance bill signed by Abbott in 2019. It provided more taxpayer funding for public schools, increased teacher compensation, and capped the percentage of property tax increases localities could impose without taxpayer approval.
On the issue of school funding, State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, told DFW CBS Local News that, “Public education is at the top of that list. We will not, I’m confident, we will not retreat from the investments that we made in public education last session. But that said, there are going to be some other difficult budget conversations.”
State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, said, “I believe that we’ll be able to meet the HB 3 need, but there’s a greater need because of the pandemic. So that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to deal with.”
With record numbers of parents withdrawing their children from public school last year, the Texas Homeschool Coalition estimates that more than 670,000 students are being home-schooled in Texas. That could translate into saving taxpayers more than $7 billion that would otherwise would be directed to public school system funding every year.
On Saturday, hundreds of Texas Republicans gathered on the steps of the Texas Public Library across from the Capitol in Austin to advocate for issues they argue were ignored in the last legislative session.
The rally began with Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West, who listed issues of importance to conservatives including protection of historic monuments, implementing constitutional carry, ending taxpayer-funded lobbying, expanding school choice options, and preventing any governor from abusing the powers of the office through unilateral and ongoing executive orders and shutdowns, which he argues is unconstitutional.
Republican state Reps. Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg), Jeff Cason of Bedford, Bryan Slaton of Royse City and Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, were the only legislators in attendance.