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Friday, May 31, 2013

Bonnen Supports Conservative Budget that Addresses State Priorities

Vol. 9 No. 9

The 83rd regular session came to a close on Memorial Day with major victories for all Texans.  Over the coming weeks, I will be sending you a series of post-session Insider's Reports summarizing the successes and challenges of the session starting with an overview of our state budget.

After facing a tremendous budget shortfall in 2011, the Texas Legislature had greater financial flexibility this session to meet critical needs.  To ensure that we accomplished this goal with fiscal restraint, I worked with conservative colleagues to increase spending by only .377% per year since 2010 when adjusted for population growth and inflation.

The crippling drought that has plagued Texas and our economy underscored the session priority to fund our nationally-acclaimed State Water Plan.  I feel there is no better use of our state's Rainy Day Fund than to make a $2 billion investment that will provide financial assistance of $27 billion over 50 years to implement the plan's water strategies.  I fully supported this effort and helped pass Senate Joint Resolution 1 to give Texas voters the ability to weigh in on this one-time draw from the Rainy Day Fund in November 2013.

The final budget also echoes the desire of Texans to restore necessary funding impacted by last biennium's revenue shortfall.  I appreciated all the emails, letters and phone calls throughout session from parents, active and retired teachers, administrators, librarians, business leaders, and even students.  In response, I supported a 2013-14 appropriations bill that dedicates nearly $4 billion additional dollars to public education and $460 million to the Teacher Retirement System to make it actuarially sound.  This includes $1.9 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to reverse school payment delays and pay for recovery efforts from the 2011 wildfires and the West fertilizer plant explosion.  I also worked to increase library funding by $7.5 million for TexShare, K-12 database programming, and Shared Digital Content.

Additionally, because of my efforts, local parks will benefit from $15.5 million in restored funding to state grant programs, while volunteer fire departments will receive an additional $10.9 million.  In the wake of tragic events across the nation, I supported a $259 million increase in mental health spending, as well as additional employees to assist Texas military veterans with federal benefits delays.  These issues were communicated to me by constituents as major priorities in our communities.

The citizens of House District 25 also made clear to me their opposition of expensive healthcare mandates imposed upon the State of Texas by our federal government.  In response, I worked to stop the potential eruption in state spending by rejecting the ObamaCare-mandated expansion of Medicaid.  I also co-authored a measure to require drug testing for unemployment benefits.  These measures will enable citizens and businesses to hold onto more of their hard-earned money.  Likewise, the passage of HB 500, which I co-authored, makes permanent the franchise tax exemption for businesses with less than $1 million in gross receipts.  To ensure economic growth is not hindered, businesses will also now be able to deduct up to $1 million in expenses once they surpass the small business exemption.  This legislation also grants a 2.5% (2014) and 5% (2015) tax rate cut for all businesses.

I have always proudly touted that our Texas Constitution prohibits the state legislature from appropriating more money than what we collect in revenue, unlike our federal government that consistently spends beyond its means.  Along these same lines, I co-authored and passed House Bill 6 to further increase accountability in our budget by addressing budgeting tricks and reducing diversions so that money goes where it was originally intended.

Overall, 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.  The Texas Legislature made historic and smart decisions not unlike those made in average households every day -- we addressed the priorities that meet our vital needs, curbed unnecessary spending, and left over $8 billion in our savings account to secure the future.

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.