Insider's Report Vol. 10 No. 22
The 84th regular session came to a close on June 1 and the Texas Legislature delivered one victory after another by cutting taxes, making the border region safer, improving education, funding transportation, protecting life, and defending Second Amendment rights. Over the coming weeks, I will be sending you a series of Insider's Reports summarizing the successes and challenges of the session starting with an overview of our state budget.
Once again, I supported and the Texas Legislature passed a balanced and disciplined state budget for the next two years. While Texas has been blessed by a booming economy, it is imperative that we continue to exercise fiscal restraint and prepare for the future. To ensure that we accomplished this goal, I worked with conservative colleagues to pass a state budget that keeps growth beneath 2 percent per year. Further, the budget grows less than population and inflation, stays well beneath the constitutional spending cap, and leaves more than $11 billion in the state's Rainy Day Fund.
House Bill 1 also highlights the priorities of the Texas Legislature:
Education: The final budget provides an additional $1.5 billion for public education and pays for an increase of roughly 80,000 students per year in the state's overall public school enrollment. It also provides more resources for higher education, including graduate medical education and TEXAS grants, the state's financial aid program.
Border Security: House Bill 1 provides $840 million in All Funds for border security. These dollars fund a comprehensive border security plan I authored and passed (House Bill 11) to hire 250 new DPS troopers and allow a 50-hour work week for all troopers. It will also fund an intelligence center to be established in the border region, and provide additional resources necessary to extend our efforts beyond manpower in monitoring and curtailing smuggling and trafficking across the border.
Tax Relief: The state budget delivers $3.8 billion in tax relief. This includes $2.6 billion for a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in the franchise tax as passed under my House Bill 32, and $1.2 billion to increase the property tax homestead exemption as passed under Senate Bill 1.
Transportation: House Bill 1 ends the diversion of money from the State Highway Fund and now ensures that SHF dollars go directly to the intended purpose of transportation. It also includes an infusion of oil-and-gas revenue made possible by voters' approval of a constitutional amendment in November 2014. I supported and the Legislature also passed Senate Joint Resolution 5 this session to give voters the option of sending additional sales tax revenue of up to $3 billion annually to the State Highway Fund if approved on the November 2015 ballot.
Mental Health: Building upon our efforts last session to provide additional funding support of mental health services, House Bill 1 increases funding for behavioral health and substance abuse services by $151 million, providing additional resources for both inpatient and outpatient services.
Long-Term Obligations: The adopted budget provides $768 million over the next biennium to pay for a shortfall to the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired teachers' and their dependents and prevents an increase in premiums for over 250,000 of our state's retired educators. House Bill 1 also ensures the solvency of the state employee pension system to protect the financial future of these dedicated individuals.
The Texas Legislature also fulfilled its commitment to restore truth in budgeting and decrease government bureaucracy through the passage of House Bill 7. I supported this omnibus legislation to reduce many unnecessary fees and surcharges, including "Professionals Tax" occupational fees, fees on gas stations to fill up their tanks, fees on medical students who benefit from the physician education loan repayment program, and surcharges on diesel equipment sales and rentals. House Bill 7 also fills a $100 million hole for 400 school districts adversely impacted by 2006 school finance reforms, abolishes the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, reduces penalties for drivers who are complying with the Driver Responsibility Program, and provides assistance to taxing entities such as the City of Killeen who are disproportionately hit by the loss of tax revenue from total residence homestead property tax exemptions for totally disabled veterans. These are common-sense changes to clean-up our budgeting process and eliminate unnecessary government involvement in the lives of Texans.
Our state budget is a true reflection of what matters most to the citizens of House District 25 who sent me to Austin to represent them. Education, public safety, a strong economy, and the protection of our state's most vulnerable citizens are clearly illustrated as our highest priorities. Just as those faced by Texas households every day, the decisions made by the Texas Legislature are not always easy. But in the end, Texans can be assured that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely and based on responsible deliberation by those elected to represent them.
Please stay tuned for Part Two of my Insider's Report post-session summary, which will focus on legislation that directly impacts local initiatives in Brazoria and Matagorda Counties.