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Monday, April 25, 2011

Legislative Management 101: First the Budget, then Redistricting

With only five weeks to go in the Regular Session, we have yet to see a Senate redistricting plan. We received a sneak peak this weekend with a Texas Tribune article detailing the fierce fight between Sens. Fraser and Duncan over Abilene and Taylor County. On the other hand, the House redistricting plan is out of committee and headed to the floor on Wednesday.

Why the difference? Legislative Management 101 states that you do not get to the see the redistricting maps until you have voted on the budget. Scheduling the budget vote before the release of redistricting maps keeps you focused on the leadership's budget priorities. You always wonder if you get crosswise with the leadership on the budget, will it have an impact on your new district?

Assuming that the Senate passes a budget this week, expect to see the Senate lines next week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Two Shortfalls

Senate Finance voted out SB 1 this morning on an 11 - 4 vote. Sens. Lucio, Patrick, Whitmire and Zaffirini voted no. This means that SB 1 does not currently have the necessary 21 votes to be brought up for debate on the Senate floor next week, which requires all 19 Republicans plus 2 Democrats. They have the 2 Democrats (Hinojosa and West), but are short at least 1 Republican (Patrick).

Patrick is a no because SB 1 spends an additional $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for the 2012-13 biennium. Ultimately, this will also turn out to be the difference in conference with the House as well. House leadership and the Governor have stated unequivocally that they will not support any additional spending from the Rainy Day Fund.

Accordingly, there are two shortfalls in the budget. One is the necessary votes to suspend in the Senate so that it can be debated on the floor. The second is the $3 billion the Senate proposes to spend from the Rainy Day Fund, which the House and the Governor say they will not support.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Budget Update

There are six weeks left in the Regular Session. The House has passed a biennium budget spending $77.6 billion in General Revenue. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts has said that he believes he sees another $4.3 to $4.5 billion in non-tax revenue the House would spend. For example, you have the $830 million in education funding coming to Texas now that the Doggett amendment has been removed. Additionally, the House Appropriations Committee voted out today several fiscal bills that would generate the following revenue for the biennium: $1.8 billion in payment deferrals; $1 billion in tax speedups; and $200 million from accelerating forfeiture of unclaimed property to the state.

Assume the House budget ultimately increases by $4.5 billion to $82.1 billion. The question is what number will it take to make a deal with the Senate in the Regular Session?

Senate Finance is scheduled to vote out its version of the budget on Thursday and take it to the Senate floor next week. I don't know the amount of the budget, but I believe that it will be in the $85 to $87 billion range. The real gap between the Senate and House when the budget gets to conference during the first week of May is likely to be $3 to $5 billion. At this point, it is anybody's guess whether that gap can be bridged by May 30.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dallas County Loses Two Seats

As expected, Dallas County loses two seats. District 101, currently represented by Cindy Burkett, is now in Tarrant County. District 106, currently represented by Rodney Anderson, is now in Denton County.

Harris County loses a State House seat

Rep. Solomons, Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, has released his proposed map for the Texas House. Harris County loses one seat going from 25 members to 24. Rep. Hubert Vo currently represents District 149, which will now be located in Central Texas.