Newly installed Comptroller Glenn Hegar will set the early tone for the new legislative session when he releases his state revenue estimate on Monday morning.
The estimate sets a limit on what will be available to lawmakers to spend in the next budget. It also serves as an important indicator as to what the state’s revenue experts expect of the Texas economy over the next couple of years. The unexpected cratering of oil prices in recent weeks has injected a huge note of uncertainty just prior to the legislators’ convening in Austin. So Monday’s announcement is generating more than the usual amount of anticipation.
Meanwhile, the Center for Public Policy Priorities has concluded that the state will need $6 billion more in general revenue in the next budget to maintain current services.
Eva DeLuna Castro, a CPPP analyst, took that figure from state agencies’ budget requests made in the run-up to the writing of the 2016-17 budget. For the current biennium, the state is spending $95 billion in general revenue. Agency requests for the 2016-17 biennium add up to $101 billion.
The biggest increase comes in health and human services, where the agency is requesting $33 billion — up $3.4 billion from the current biennium. The increase is driven by caseload growth in Medicaid and other areas and by medical cost increases.
The state’s retirement systems for teachers and state employees are requesting about $10 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion over the current biennium. The extra funding is needed for health care costs for both state employees and teachers. Also, the state employees pension plan has funding needs that require additional dollars in the budget.
Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency will be asking for about $33 billion. But that’s $1.1 billion less than the current biennium. The reason, according to DeLuna Castro, is that higher property tax collections are reducing the amount of aid being sent by the state to local school districts.
DeLuna Castro notes that as a “current services” budget, the $101 billion in general revenue “would not undo the cuts in state services that remain from the 2011 session. Nor does this funding level include the many ‘exceptional items’ that state agencies requested but which would either improve state services or address long-neglected issues such as capital repairs or purchases.”
A select group of legislators will be asking for guidance from a higher power just hours after being sworn in on Tuesday.
According to incoming state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, an election sermon is scheduled for the Capitol Extension auditorium at 4 p.m.
Hall writes, “Just as our founding fathers that forged this great nation sealed their efforts with prayer and sought the Lord for guidance, I invite you to join my fellow legislators and I, as we seek God's guidance for this upcoming 84th Legislative Session.”
Presenting the sermon is Richard Halbgewachs, pastor at Oak Hill Primitive Baptist Church.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has announced her staff for the 84th Legislature. They are:
• Chris Steinbach, chief of staff
• Ross Giesinger, general counsel and legislative director
• Ben Barkley, senior policy analyst
• Matt Russell, communications director and policy analyst
Land Commissioner George P. Bush has announced a few more hires for his office. They are:
• Ash Wright, deputy director of government relations for outreach
• Bryan Preston, digital media director
• Danielle Treviño, social media strategist