Published Jan 11, 2019 by Taylor Landin
During the 86th Legislative Session, the Partnership will provide a weekly update on our top executive priorities and other newsworthy items from Austin.
The first week of the 86th Legislative Session went as expected with Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) being elected Speaker of the House. Perhaps most important was the release of the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated that $119.1 billion would be available for general purpose spending this upcoming biennium. Comptroller Hegar’s BRE allows for optimism as state leaders will have the resources to address major issues this session.
The Partnership established two executive priorities this session: public school finance reform and flood resilience. We will also support our members on other issues during session. Our state legislative agenda brief can be found here.
Passing meaningful school finance reform this session is a top priority for the Partnership. To kick off these efforts, the Partnership coordinated a statewide effort to place op-eds from business leaders in the top newspapers around the state. In addition to our op-ed that ran in the Houston Chronicle, our efforts resulted in five other op-eds running in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Corpus Christi. This was a strong signal to statewide leadership and the Legislature, demonstrating the business community’s commitment to school finance reform.
As it relates to legislation, Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the presumptive Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, has drafted legislation for school finance reform. This legislation has yet to be filed, but it is expected to be the priority school finance bill in the House.
Representative John Zerwas (R-Katy) and leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are in the process of finalizing new funding for public schools. Funding figures, while not yet disclosed publicly, are expected to exceed enrollment growth and fulfill the recommendations made by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance.
Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the presumptive Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is expected to draft the Senate’s school finance bill. Both Senator Taylor and Representative Huberty served on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and both bills are expected to reflect many of the recommendations from the Commission’s final report.
Hurricane Harvey recovery and future flood mitigation were top of mind for many lawmakers during the interim and that focus was clear in conversations with lawmakers and statewide leadership this week. It will be important for the Partnership to make clear distinctions between Hurricane Harvey recovery needs and the establishment of a flood infrastructure fund to help pay for future flood mitigation projects.
Specifically related to recovery, the Partnership estimates that there is over $750 million in local matching requirements for the 55 counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey. If the state helped cover these local matching requirements, it could result in nearly $6 billion in additional federal funding being available for recovery needs. The Partnership is already engaged with Representative Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and other House members from the Houston delegation who will be key leaders on this issue.
As it relates to future mitigation projects, Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, is planning to file a bill that would create a flood infrastructure fund with an appropriation of at least $1.2 billion. We are working with our delegation to ensure that the fund meets the flood mitigation needs of our region.
WEEK IN REVIEW
On Monday, Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the Biennial Revenue Estimate, which projects the state will have approximately $119.1 billion available for general purpose spending during the biennium, an 8.1 percent increase from the amount available for the 2018-2019 biennium. This estimate sets the parameters for the Legislature’s budget decisions throughout session and is higher than most budget writers expected. Per the Comptroller, absent any appropriations, the Rainy Day Fund balance is expected to reach $15.4 billion at the end of the 2020-21 biennium.
Six new State Senators took the oath of office on January 8th, including one from the Houston region, Senator Carol Alvarado, who won the special election to replace Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). One noteworthy action in the Senate was the creation of a standing committee on property tax. Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) have made property tax relief top issues for the legislative session. Announcements of committee chairmanships and appointments are expected early next week.
After the House gaveled into session, members unanimously elected Rep. Dennis Bonnen as Speaker. In his address to the chamber, he listed school finance reform as the House’s top priority. He also expressed a need to address property tax reform, school safety and human trafficking.