January 26, 2017

This week's Capitol Roundup :
  • AGC TBB 2017 Legislative Day set for March 22 at the Capitol
  • Patrick appoints Senate committee chairs
  • House and Senate put forth budget proposals with big spending gap 
  • Senate working group tackles school finance

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Click here to access past editions of Capitol Roundup.
AGC Texas Chapters
Quote of the Week

"This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette - with the lives of Texans at stake."

-Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

 In a letter to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to pull state funding from Hernandez's office if the newly elected sheriff does not reverse her policy on reducing cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Abbott also  said this week he would push legislation to remove officeholders who promote sanctuary cities. 
Mark your calendars: 2017 AGC TBB Legislative Day

AGC Texas Building Branch will host its biennial Legislative Day at the Capitol on March 22. AGC TBB members will
AGC TBB members meeting with legislative staff in 2015
have an invaluable opportunity to meet and interact with legislators in their offices and network with other members from across the state. An evening reception will be held March 21 for early arrivals. Please stay tuned for more details.

Patrick maintains most of Senate committee leadership this session

Retaining most of last session's committee leaders, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed three new chairs when he filled this session's 14 slots last week

Patrick returned nine Republicans to the same committee chair roles they held last session and  returned chairs to two Democrats - John Whitmire (D-Houston), who will chair Criminal Justice, and Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), who will chair Intergovernmental Relations.

Last year, the upper chamber voted to reduce the number of committees from 18 to 14, eliminating or consolidating the following: economic development, government organization, jurisprudence, open government.
By law, no bills can be passed in the first 60 days of session unless they fall under one of the governor's emergency measures, which will likely be release in the coming weeks. Patrick has already assigned bill numbers to some of his top priorities, and committees have begun meeting. 
( Click here for a full list of committee assignments)

Senate committee chairs (new chairs in bold):
* AdministrationLois Kolkhorst  (R-Brenham)
* Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs - Charles Perry  (R-Lubbock)
* Business & CommerceKelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills)
* Criminal Justice - John Whitmire  (D-Houston)
* Education - Larry Taylor  (R-Friendswood)
* Finance - Jane Nelson  (R-Flower Mound)
*Health & Human ServicesCharles Schwertner  (R-Georgetown)
*Higher EducationKel Seliger  (R-Amarillo)
*Intergovernmental Relations - Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville)
* Natural Resources & Economic DevelopmentCraig Estes (R-Wichita Falls)
* Nominations - Brian Birdwell  (R-Granbury)
*State AffairsJoan Huffman  (R-Houston)
*TransportationRobert Nichols  (R-Jacksonville)
*Veteran Affairs & Military InstallationsDonna Campbell  (R-New Braunfels)

Senate, House submit competing budget proposals with $5 billion state spending gap

In a legislative session where public dollars will be unusually tight, the Legislature's two chambers submitted two-year budgets last week that begin much further apart from each other than the budgets from last session. The proposals will leave plenty of room for negotiations over the next four months. 

The Senate, which will initiate budget discussions this session, submitted a plan (Senate Bill 1) to spend $103.6 billion in state general revenue ($213.4 billion with federal funds), compared to the House's $108.9 billion ($221.3 billion with federal funds). The roles have reversed from last session when the Senate came in higher with a $101.5 billion proposal, compared to a $98.8 billion spending plan from the House. 

The Senate spending plan comes in more than $1 billion less than Comptroller Glenn Hegar's revenue estimate of $104.9 billion, while the House's plan would require $4 billion more in spending. Overall, the House plan would increase state spending by less than 1 percent, House budget writers said. On the other hand, the Senate plan seeks to reduce spending across most state-funded areas by 1.5 percent, with exemptions for school funding, according to Senate budget writers. 

"While we will need to prioritize and make efficient use of our resources, I am confident we can meet the challenges ahead," Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) said in a statement.

While not clear where the House budget writers planned to make up the $4 billion difference in funds between their spending proposal and Hegar's revenue estimate, some have suggested they may tap into the state's Rainy Day Fun, which now sits at $11.9 billion.

"This is the first step toward producing a balanced budget that reflects the priorities of the Texas House and does not raise taxes," House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said in a prepared statement.

The House plan spends roughly $2.2 billion more in state funds for education, and includes $1.5 billion additional funds to be spent only if the school finance system is reformed. Meanwhile, the Senate's $800 million proposed spending on border security is about $140 million more than the House plan. The House has proposed about $2 billion more than the Senate on health and human services. The Senate plan reduces the state's roughly $60 million in Medicaid spending by $0.8 million, while the House plan increases spending by about $0.9 billion. The two proposals largely agree on other key areas of the budget, such as funding for transportation and child protective services. 
Senate school finance working group starts with little cash and "clean slate" 

A Senate working group led by Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) is taking a fresh look at overhauling the state's crippled school finance system in a session where state funding looks scarce. 

Sen. Larry Taylor
Since the Texas Supreme Court declared in May that the system is in dire need of restructuring, legislators from both chambers have been working to find answers. The solution to a broken system that has come under fire over several decades will be complicated by this year's tight revenue estimate and by competing budget proposals from the House and Senate.

While the initial Senate budget proposal does not allocate funding dependent on a new financing structure, the House budget has reserved $1.5 billion in additional funds for such a scenario. Overall, the House plan seeks to spend roughly $2.2 billion more on education, with most funding in concurrence with a new system. 

The newly formed working group of senators, which will work closely with the Senate Education Committee, received guidance on Monday in front of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Jane Nelson

"The opportunity is huge for us to get it right," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, who put education on par with health care as one of her committee's top priorities. "It should be less complicated, innovative and should meet the needs of our students."

When asked in committee whether he would be leaving all options open in terms of funding mechanisms, Taylor said he would be open to anything since the Supreme Court did not call for a specific plan to be installed.

"They've actually cleared the air for us to come and do a meaningful reform," Taylor said.

2016-17 AGC Texas Building Branch Calendar


10 - Last Day to File Bills (60th legislative day)
22 -  AGC TBB Legislative Day at the Capitol

21 -  AGC TBB Board Meeting - Austin

29 - Last Day of 85th Legislature

18-21 -  AGC TBB Annual Convention - Coueur d'Alene Resort, Idaho