State Capital Highlights March 19, 2015

By Ed Sterling

Lawmakers seek to control elements of state spending
AUSTIN — Debates over the Texas House and Senate versions of the state budget lie ahead, and movement toward setting budget controls to blend into a final, agreed-upon budget for 2016-2017 emerged in low-numbered bills filed last week.

SB 20 by Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Grapevine, would strengthen state agency contract reporting requirements, require agency heads to sign off on contracts worth more than $1 million and require agencies to post a list of all contracts on their state website, according to a report posted by the Senate’s in-house news service.
“These contracts are paid for with taxpayer dollars,” Nelson said. “We must ensure that they are awarded with the highest degree of ethics and transparency.” Nelson said her committee would vote on SB 20 this week.

SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would tie the state spending cap to population growth, plus inflation, rather than stick with the current benchmark, personal income growth, to devise a boundary for state spending. The state constitution limits the growth of the state budget to no more than the growth of the state economy.

In other news, the Senate Select Committee on Government Facilities examined deferred maintenance at state agencies, meaning the costs of upkeep that get put off due to lack of funding. Select Committee Chair Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler,  said state agencies need $1.5 billion to fix state facilities, up from $400 million in 2006.

“If you don’t fix the roof, it’s not just the cost of the roof five years out, it’s the cost of the walls. It’s the cost of the carpet and repairs.” Eltife said, and called for a four-year plan, including a special account, to catch up with deferred maintenance.

Bill-filing deadline passes
Friday, March 13, marked the 60th day of the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature and was the final day for state lawmakers to file non-local legislative bills and proposed constitutional amendments.

True to form, bill filing reached tsunami proportions in the last week of bill filing, with more than one third of the total rolling in a matter of days. Statistics kept by Texas Legislative Council show 4,114 House bills, 1,226 Senate bills, and 133 House and 65 Senate joint resolutions (proposed constitutional amendments) were filed. And those, in addition to concurrent resolutions and congratulatory and memorial resolutions submitted by members of both bodies came to a grand total of 7,989 bills.
With 80 days left in the 140-day session, lawmakers must move with all possible speed to get their bills assigned to committees for consideration.

An intensive schedule of committee hearings has begun. From here on, it’s a race against the clock. In the second week of May, a string of deadlines ensue that will cut down the number of bills that have some chance of entering the final stages of the maze before June 1, the 140th and final day of the regular session.

Sales tax revenue increases
State sales tax revenue in February was $2.46 billion, up 11.7 percent compared to February 2014, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced March 11.
“This marks the 59th consecutive month of year-over-year growth — an encouraging sign that Texas’ diverse economic engine continues to drive spending growth in households and businesses all over the state,” Hegar said.

Receipts from manufacturing and wholesale and retail trade grew and tax receipts from the oil and natural gas sector were up sharply over last year, despite a decline in oil and natural gas prices, Hegar added.

Cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts will receive March local sales tax allocations totaling $590.1 million, up 6.7 percent compared to March 2014.

Governor certifies disaster
Gov. Greg Abbott on March 9 issued a disaster proclamation certifying that drought conditions continue to pose a threat of imminent disaster in 95 of Texas’ 254 counties.

While this 30-day drought proclamation is in effect, rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat are suspended for the duration of the state of disaster, as authorized by state law.


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