Budget Panel Breakdown: Democrats Short on Slots, Long on Experience

The budget conference committee will hash out a compromise of the chamber’s respective 2016-17 budget plans. Committee members include two Democrats who rank as the most experienced budget negotiators on the panel.

Sens. Lois Kolkhorst, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Jane Nelson, Charles Schwertner, Joan Huffman and Reps. Larry Gonzales, Sarah Davis, Sylvester Turner, John Otto and Trent Ashby make up the 2015 budget conference committee.
Sens. Lois Kolkhorst, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Jane Nelson, Charles Schwertner, Joan Huffman and Reps. Larry Gonzales, Sarah Davis, Sylvester Turner, John Otto and Trent Ashby make up the 2015 budget conference committee.  Graphic by Todd Wiseman

What the Democrats might lack in representation on the panel of state budget negotiators, they make up for in experience.

The budget conference committee, which includes five House members and five senators, will hash out a compromise of the chambers' respective 2016-17 budget plans. Members include two Democrats who rank as the most experienced budget negotiators on the panel.

Among House conferees, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, has five sessions on the budget committee under his belt, while state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, leads on the Senate side with three previous sessions on the committee.

The House’s lead budget writer, Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, will serve on the committee for the fourth time. Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is joining the panel for the third time.

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State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, served on the committee twice while she was a state representative. State Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place; Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin; Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, and state Sens. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston, are all first-timers.

The four female lawmakers on the committee — three of the seven women serving in the Senate — are the most to serve on the panel since at least 1995.

This year, female legislators make up nearly half of the budget conference committee. But they have have historically been underrepresented at the Capitol, making up only a fifth of the Legislature even though they make up half of the state's population.

The political makeup of the budget conference committee has shifted significantly over the last 10 legislative sessions as Democrats lost their majority in the Legislature. The last time Democrats outnumbered Republicans on the committee was 1995, but even then Republicans held more seats than Democrats do now that the Democrats are in the minority. (Democrats lost their majority in the House in 2002 and in the Senate in 1996.)