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Legislators to convene with much-changed fiscal outlook

 - Register now for TAB’s Legislative Day conference Jan. 26

State lawmakers will convene Jan. 13 under a fiscal outlook much different than the one they campaigned on last year as months of declining oil prices jeopardize at least the state’s short-term revenue forecasts. 

Oil prices are hovering at nearly half what they were just six months ago.  The plunge is casting doubt on legislative leaders’ ability to fulfill their promises to eliminate the modified gross receipts tax on business income, which is outgoing Gov. Rick Perry’s signature tax policy. They also will likely be unable to do much to alleviate the state’s overreliance on local property taxes to support public schools and basic services.

Similarly, oft-touted needs such as road repair, the ongoing drought and the state’s sparse human services safety net could see little, if any, additional investment if low oil prices are projected to continue for long. Legislators also may feel compelled to continue the legal delusion that the state’s two-year budget is balanced by continuing to hoard $4 billion of dedicated tax and fee revenues.

Lawmakers will learn how much revenue they have available to craft the next two-year budget when the state’s brand new tax collector, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, releases his biennial revenue estimate in the coming weeks. The legislature is not allowed to spend more than what the Comptroller certifies is available.

Radio and TV GMs and news directors will be briefed on these major state policy concerns at TAB’s Legislative Day conference in Austin on Jan. 26. Briefings also will focus on TAB’s efforts to address an adverse state Supreme Court ruling hurting newsrooms and secure a clarification of state tax law regarding certain broadcast technology.

The highlight of the event is the no-speech luncheon where lawmakers are seated with their constituent broadcasters. This format fosters discussion of how broadcasters and lawmakers can jointly advance their communities. Register

Elections still underway

Even with the Legislature’s opening day less than a week away, voters in some communities are still determining who’s going to represent them.

Two House members are vying in a special election to succeed outgoing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte who resigned to run for Mayor of San Antonio.  Another House member from San Antonio, Democrat Mike Villarreal, resigned to run for the race, too, meaning that voters in that district need to choose a new representative.  Yet another election will be needed to fill a House vacancy if one of the other House members succeeds.

Meanwhile, two House districts between Austin and Houston are up for grabs because of resignations or special elections after the November general election.

Legislative timeframe

The delay in representation is unlikely to hinder legislative activities or the districts involved. The five-month session will get off to a slow start with ceremonial events – swearing-ins, inaugurations and major legislative policy speeches – occupying most of January.

Committee appointments are widely expected to be announced late in the month. Committees cannot hear legislation in the first 30 days of the session unless the topic is one designated as an emergency by the Governor.

Regular bill filing ends March 13 and initial budget plans will be released in mid-April.  End-of-session parliamentary deadlines begin expiring in early May, with adjournment slated for June 1.

Because of the budgetary constraints and ongoing school finance lawsuit, many capitol observers anticipate the Governor will have to call one or two special sessions this summer so lawmakers can finish their budget planning.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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