Legislators were welcomed back to the Capitol this week as the session geared up for the final month before the unrestricted bill filing deadline (March 12). With five action items on the to-do list, Governor Abbott released his budget for the biennium, and the Senate Finance Committee plans to meet nine more times before the end of the month.
The Governor’s budget reveals a renewed commitment to Texas students through recommendations to improve school safety, increase need-based aid, install programs to supplement learning losses as a result of the pandemic, and broaden the accessibility of higher education in light of financial obstacles. Governor Abbott also highlighted key items on his agenda for the session. He recommends a dedication of funds to promoting cybersecurity and election integrity; to law enforcement training, body cameras for police forces, and programs to promote the training of peace officers; to expanding the broadband system, increasing teleservices, and improving the state’s mental health infrastructure; and to dedicate to the fullest extent federal funds for the distribution of therapeutics and vaccine doses amidst the pandemic.
It was certainly good news to learn that the budget deficit would not be so severe as anticipated last summer. However, with the pandemic on the mend, lawmakers must anticipate a drastic decline in federal funding. In the past year, Texas received over $11.24 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. With much of that funding absent in the predictions for the biennium, there is an estimated 5% drop in available funds in the biennial change.
But things are by no means bleak. Senate Bill 1 currently anticipates a 4.1% increase in General Revenue Funds, that higher education appropriations will be maintained at their 2020-2021 levels, and recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System include an increased state contribution rate. The Committee has a big challenge on their hands this session – we have no doubt that they will succeed in approving a budget for the next biennium with the best interest of Texas at heart.
To date, there are at least 40 bills filed pertaining to the Governor’s five action items. You can find Governor Abbott’s budget recommendations here. For more information on the schedule, minutes, and more from the Senate Finance Committee, click here. For updates on bill filings, hearings, and other such news relating to the legislature, take a look here. Chairman Bonnen announced that House Appropriations will begin hearings next week beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, and 9:00 a.m. Thursday. Broadcasts for those hearings are here. Lastly, the House will convene on February 16 at 2 p.m. and reconvene on February 17 at 10 a.m.
With less than a month to go on bill filings, things are taking off! Stay tuned.
All the best,
Lara Laneri Keel
President, LLK, LLC