State Capital Highlights

Board proposes budget for next biennium



To pass a budget bill is the Texas Legislature’s main job, but it is the 10-member Legislative Budget Board’s job to propose how much money the state may spend.

At a Nov. 15 public hearing, the Board offered up a 2014-2015 two-year state budget capped at $78 billion per year, observing the constitutional spending limit. Comptroller Susan Combs has another couple of months to share her revenue forecast with the budgetwriting House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

The 83rd Texas Legislature is scheduled to convene on Jan. 8. Among a multitude of budget considerations are: (1) a state population projected to be greater than 27 million people; (2) the business climate; (3) public health; (4) public education; (5) public safety, law enforcement and prisons; (6) roads, highways and bridges; (7) local governmental institutions, and more.

Members of the Legislative Budget Board, to whom much is entrusted, are joint chairs Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and five appointees: Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Reps. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. Remember, however: the Legislature relies on the office of the state comptroller to do the critical job of forecasting the amount of revenue that will be available to pay for it all. Comptroller Combs and crew are busy looking at tax collections, non-tax revenue, unspent funds from the current budget and the option to transfer in billions of dollars from the Economic Stabilization Fund, known widely as the Rainy Day Fund.

Five months ago, the governor and the Legislative Budget

Board directed state agencies to find 5 percent in savings for fiscal 2014 and another 5 percent in savings for fiscal 2015.

Sequestration panel named

House Speaker Straus on Nov. 12 named an interim panel to recommend ways Texas can prepare for what now is commonly referred to as the “fiscal cliff” — a mix of federal tax increases and spending reductions poised to take effect at the end of the year unless Congress takes actions to avoid the cliff.

The panel, titled Interim Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration, will report its findings to the speaker by Jan. 7, the day before the 2013 Texas Legislature convenes.

House members named to the panel include Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, chair; Republican Reps. Cindy Burkett, Mesquite; Brandon Creighton, Conroe; Dan Flynn, Canton; Jodie Laubenberg, Rockwall; and Charles Perry, Lubbock; and Democratic Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Austin; Craig Eiland, Galveston; Naomi Gonzalez, El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III, San Benito.

Secretary of state resigns

Texas Secretary of State Esperanza “Hope” Andrade on Nov. 20 resigned from office, effective Nov. 23.

After more than four years as the state’s chief elections officer, Andrade leaves office as Texas’s fourth-longest serving secretary of state. The San Antonio native previously served as chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, the agency that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

NTSB investigates accident

National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to Midland to investigate an accident in which a Union Pacific freight train struck a flatbed semi-trailer at a grade crossing on Nov. 15. At the time of the accident, the trailer was being used as a parade float in an event to honor veterans. Four deaths and 16 injuries were reported in the accident.

F1: impact totals to come

On Nov. 16-18, the new Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix track near Austin hosted its first Formula 1 racing event.

State and local agencies, merchants and people who live in the Austin area will be contributing information that will be used to calculate the economic impact of the event. When that calculation will be released is unknown. What is known is the number of gate receipts for the three-day event, as reported by Circuit of the Americas: total attendance, 265,499.

Secession petitions circulate

Following the election of President Barack Obama to a second term, a group has been gathering signatures in favor of Texas seceding from the United States. Soon after, a reactive petition was being circulated, attracting signatures of Texans who prefer that the state remain part of the union.

Gov. Perry, who in 2009 made a public statement suggesting that Texas might be better off on its own, distanced himself from the notion driving the pro-secession petition.

ED STERLING the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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