Now that the election is over, you might be tempted to put politics out of your mind, but it's important that we stay engaged. Our political engagement does not end in the voting booth in fact, that should be just the starting point. The actions of our elected officials once they are in office has an even greater impact on our lives and the lives of our neighbors. The 86th Texas Legislative Session is around the corner, and here are some key issues facing the Legislature.
1. New House Speaker
The Texas House of Representatives has elected Dennis Bonnen (R. Angelton) as the new Speaker of the House, the first election in 10 years. The speaker manages the floor debate by determining when other members are recognized to speak, decides when bills are called to the floor for debate, and assigns members to committees and committee chairmanships among other things. Prior to his election as speaker, Rep. Bonnen served as the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for writing Texas tax laws.
Passing a budget is the only constitutionally required task the Legislature must complete each session. The Texas Comptroller estimates that the Legislature will have $110 billion in revenue to spend for the 2018-19 biennium. The two largest expenditures in the Texas budget are Medicaid and K-12 funding.
Heading into the 86th Legislative Session, the Legislature will have some pressing financial obligations to address: $2 billion in deferred Medicaid payments, another $2.5 billion for the state highway fund, an influx of cash for the Teacher Retirement System, and ongoing costs for Harvey-related recovery items. Thankfully, the Rainy Day Fund (Texas’ Savings Account) has almost $12.5 billion which potentially can be used to cover continuing costs related to Hurricane Harvey recovery.
3. School Finance
In 2017, the Legislature agreed to create the Texas Commission on Public School Finance to address the ongoing challenges in the way funds are allocated for public schools. The Commission is scheduled to present a report and plan for fixing the system to state officials before the start of the session.
Over 90 percent of Texas school-aged children will be educated in public schools. As Texas continues to grow, state funding for schools has not kept pace. According to reports, the state of Texas is providing around 36 percent of funding for schools with a whopping 64 percent generated by local property taxes. Addressing high property taxes and improving the public school finance system will be two of lawmakers top tasks this session.
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