This January brings not only the start of a new year, but the start of a new session for the Texas Legislature. On January 11th, the 82nd Legislative Session will officially open as 31 State Senators and 150 State Representatives begin the 140 day process of tackling the key issues facing our great state. Countless issues will be debated in both chambers of the State Capitol as lawmakers embrace this once every two year opportunity to address public policy needs. Here is a look at the four issues that I believe will take center stage during 2011.
Balancing the State Budget
Once again, Texas lawmakers will be presented with the task of crafting a two-year state budget that adequately funds vital state services, such as public education, without engaging in debt spending practices. Last session, lawmakers were able to pass a budget that increased funding in critical areas while simultaneously reducing state revenue spending by 1.9 percent.
While Texas has weathered this global economic downturn better than most states and nations, its effects have not gone entirely unnoticed in the Lone Star State. Sales tax revenues have recently started to increase in Texas, but we will be faced with a budget shortfall next session that will require state lawmakers to seek innovative ways to get the most out of your tax dollars and responsibly allocate those resources so that our core components and top funding priorities continue to be met without raising taxes.
Accounting for Texas’ Strong Population Growth
Every 10 years, state lawmakers are charged with re-adjusting our legislative and congressional districts in order to reflect population trends and ensure that our level of representation remains equal across the state. This process, known as redistricting, will take place during the next legislative session.
The US Census Bureau has announced that Texas will gain four new congressional seats this year. While our gains far outweigh any other state, we must now determine where to responsibly place these new seats while also adjusting the boundaries of our existing 32 congressional districts. Likewise, we must reapportion our state legislative districts in order to reflect the population trends within our state over the course of the last decade.
Our Denton County population has grown by 52% since 2000, placing us in a great position to gain an additional seat in the Texas House, increase our presence in our 3 State Senate districts and possibly become a part of a new North Texas congressional district. In redrawing our districts, lawmakers must seek responsible boundary lines that promote geographic continuity and also maximize our representation in state and federal government.
Addressing Business Taxes
Last session was a great victory for small businesses in Texas. State lawmakers raised the small business exemption to the franchise tax to $1 million, effectively taking 40,000 small businesses off the franchise tax rolls. However, this issue will have to be revisited during the next legislative session since the current exemption level of $1 million is set to expire in January of 2012 unless state lawmakers vote to extend this tax exemption.
Reauthorizing and Restructuring State Agencies
Agencies of this state extend the public services that the Legislature authorizes. Examples of the services carried out through state agencies include: road construction, public education services, police and fire protection and many more. Next session, lawmakers will have to consider, re-tool and either eliminate or reauthorize 27 state agencies. In doing so, it will be vital to evaluate each agency on the basis of whether their stated goal is being met and structure them in a way that will more efficiently deliver necessary state services.
The decisions made during the 82nd Legislative Session will be vital to our state’s continued prosperity and I value your feedback on these and other issues. If you ever wish to share a thought or comment, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512.463.0688 or by e-mail at [email protected]. As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives.