The 84th Legislature is about to start, so we asked our insiders in politics and government about the new people coming into statewide office. We asked about the early odds on the growing Texas field in the race for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and also about budget and tax issues ahead.
Nine in ten expect big changes out of Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, who takes over from David Dewhurst — one of the people he beat in the GOP primary — later this month. But most don’t expect big changes from other statewide officials, running from a high of 24 percent who expect major change in the governor’s office to only 7 percent who expect big stuff out of the railroad commission. Aside from Patrick, the insiders expect little change — or none at all — in the offices run by statewide officials.
Jeb Bush is the frontrunner among the candidates with Texas ties in the GOP race for president. Sixty-seven percent of the insiders ranked him as likely to finish first, followed by Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
On the day before the legislative session begins, new Comptroller Glenn Hegar will roll out his first official estimate of the state’s revenue over the next two years. Early indications are that — for his purposes, for now — falling oil prices won’t put a big dent in the forecast of how much money is available to budgeteers. But 46 percent of the insiders predict oil prices will have a big impact on the budget, and 33 percent said it will affect state finances a little bit. About one in six expect the oil prices to have more impact in the next budget, written two years from now.
Finally, we got a sounding on the beleaguered business margins tax. Only 5 percent think lawmakers will eliminate that tax, but 51 percent think lawmakers will reduce the number of taxpayers subject to it, and 23 percent think lawmakers will lower the rates.
As is our habit, we collected verbatim comments along the way and a copy of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:
Many of the state’s elected officials are new. How will they differ from their predecessors?
• "The biggest changes will be the vendor revolution as Perry's cronies lose their sweetheart deals."
• "The conservative lean will be evident in all of the positions, but the LtGov seat is going to change the most at the whims of our new LtGov."
• "Policy wise, I wouldn’t anticipate the incoming freshman will veer to far from their predecessors. Tone and temperament wise, it'll be like a blue norther just blew through. "
• "Abbott, same policies, different style. Patrick, nothing is sacred. Paxton, who knows? Hegar, big learning curve. Bush, a jumping off office. Miller, all hat. Sitton, ?"
• "In Governor's office, perhaps not much difference in policy positions, but far less cronyism. More thoughtful consideration driving policy decisions, as opposed to politics - at least I think and hope. Just the opposite in the AG's office."
• "I bet this Comptroller can actually do 'Comptroller-y' things like, ya know, correctly estimate state revenues and stuff like that."
• "Very excited to see the innovated ideas George P. will bring to the Land Office."
Will the drop in oil prices have much effect on the state budget written this year?
• "Lawmakers need to be very careful about spending money on programs that won't be sustainable in two years."
• "Falling oil prices will provide a ready excuse for candidates-turned-lawmakers to get out of everything they promised, including tax-cuts. Besides, they'll also say they need to save money for the public education lawsuit. Transportation is the only winner because people are filling up their tanks and the Constitution protects their funding!"
• "Fiscal restraint was a BIG campaign promise across the board. It's now time to deliver on that promise."
• "If they use their brains.... oil is now 'one time' money...don't spend it on recurring costs.... tax cuts, spending, etc."
• "A lot of effect on the TxDOT budget (because of the new way that money goes to the Economic Stabilization Fund)."
• "Anyone who thinks the budget won't be affected is crazy. The last two sessions saw great prices for oil. In fact, in Feb. 2011, it was at about $110, and in 2013 it was at about $105. Today it's at $52. See the difference? "
• "Although the Texas is economy is diversified well beyond the oil and gas industry today, the O&G impact on state tax revenues is much greater than its impact on the overall State economy."
• "I griped (loudly) when gas was >$4/gal, and now I’m not suppose to be pleased that gas is <$2/gal? Jeez, is this conundrum a paradox or an allegory? Or just plain bullshit?"
• "If half of your heart quits pumping, does it have an effect on your health?"
• "They're already using fairly conservative revenue estimates, which should help matters."
Will lawmakers manage to change the business margins tax?
• "Reduce, then eliminate it in 2017."
• "It's cheap to buy off lots of small businesses with a bigger exemption, but TTARA won't like it."
• "Funny how 'small businesses' make lots of money these days."
• "The Comptroller finally understands how to implement it; businesses now know how to hide assets from it. The Lege will reduce the # and corral the escapees. "
• "They will probably lower it with some long-term prospect for further relief, or at least studies of whether it can and should be repealed or replaced."
• "Bidness gets what bidness wants"
Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jennifer Ahrens, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Tom Banning, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Blaine Bull, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Snapper Carr, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Kevin Cooper, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Eva De Luna-Castro, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Glenn Deshields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Neftali Garcia, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, John Heasley, Ken Hodges, Laura Huffman, Kathy Hutto, Deborah Ingersoll, Bill Jones, Mark Jones, Walt Jordan, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Myra Leo, Ruben Longoria, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Nelson Nease, Keats Norfleet, Pat Nugent, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Jerod Patterson, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Pritchard, Karen Reagan, Tim Reeves, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Tyler Ruud, Jason Sabo, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Ben Sebree, Bradford Shields, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Gerard Torres, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Seth Winick, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.