Written by Andy Cates | Interested in state politics or local issues? Join the Government Relations committee!
As the legislative session begins for the 83rd time this year at the state capitol, some important political and policy issues will play a larger role than in years past.
Yesterday the Governor gave his State of the State address to both chambers of the legislature and the rumor mill was abuzz leading up to the speech to try and predict whether or not he will run again for Governor or leave his seat and run for President. Last cycle, the Governor was not up for re-election, and so he did not have to pick whether or not to run for Governor or President. In 2014, the Governor will have to make a decision, and the prevailing opinion is that he will cede the Governorship and run for President again. This would leave the top executive seat in Texas open for a fight. While it is tough to predict this far out, the most likely candidate to run at this point is Attorney General Greg Abbott.
The legislature has made funding the State Water Plan one of the number one priorities this year. You may ask why we’re worrying about water so much when the budget is looming and we just came out of a recession. Well, Texas has been in a prolonged drought for almost 50 years now, and it shows no signs of getting much better. If we don’t invest now while our coffers are full in water infrastructure, we won’t have enough water in the state to meet the needs of 50% of our population. That’s why the legislature is looking at a potential $2 billion investment in water infrastructure this biennium.
Rainy Day Fund/Spending Caps
Just like in Congress, Texas has set spending caps that we may not cross. This year, we’re looking at not only topping out the spending caps, but also topping off our Economic Stabilization Fund (colloquially known as the Rainy Day Fund). It’s the age-old problem, when we need money, we don’t have any; and when we have money to spend, we can’t spend enough. Much of this year will be devoted to working around the spending caps in order to use the money we have to build infrastructure where we need it.
The biggest issue of any session is the budget. In fact, it’s the only bill that actually constitutionally has to pass while the members are in Austin for these 140 days. The budget will take up the entire four months to get settled, and as always there will be nasty fights over where the money is appropriated in Texas agencies and programs. Last session, they cut programs based on social issues like abortion and immigration. This year it will probably be more measured and more economically than socially motivated. Either way, it is clear that we have a much bigger carrot to wave around than last time, with revenue estimates far greater than we’ve seen in years past. With the trimmed down cache of programs, it will be difficult for the legislators to find a spot for all of the money, but as was mentioned before, water infrastructure will likely get between $1.6 and $2 billion, and another $1-2 billion going to transportation infrastructure as well.