Money, Money, Money

January 29, 2021

Thanks to the wisdom of past Texas leaders, our state constitution requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget every two years. While this constraint means that we must make tough choices on which programs to fund, it ultimately forces us to be good stewards of the state's resources. In Texas, we don't have the option of putting off necessary, difficult budget decisions by borrowing more money. The US Congress could certainly benefit from such a requirement, but that's another story.

As we progress further into the 87th Legislative Session, we begin the process of creating and approving the state's budget for the next two years. This edition of our weekly newsletter will provide an overview of the budget-building process, including a step-by-step explainer of how the budget works its way through the Legislature.

The process begins with the Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). Essentially, this estimate lets the Legislature know how much money we have available to spend. While early projections from months ago appeared bleak due to economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the current estimate paints a picture that is much less grim.

Following the Comptroller's report, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) released their budgetary recommendations. This 1,000 page document will act as the starting point for our discussions. You can view the entire document here.

With the Biennial Revenue Estimate and the Legislative Budget Board's recommendations in hand, the Legislature can now begin to draft, debate, and approve the final budget. This process can be lengthy and confusing, but will hopefully conclude with a budget that puts the needs of Texans first without raising taxes. Below, you can find a more in-depth breakdown of what to expect as the Legislature creates the budget.
 
May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

The Appropriations Process

Starting Out
The legislative mechanism for spending money is known as the appropriations process. The appropriations bill is the massive document that portions out state dollars to schools, state agencies, etc. Both the House and the Senate will pass a version of the appropriations bill before negotiating a compromise and passing the reconciled bill through both chambers. 

Committee
In the Texas Legislature, committees are where the sausage gets made. Fittingly, the Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over the appropriations bill. Over the course of 3 to 4 weeks, the committee will hear testimony from agency leaders, issue advocates, and taxpayers, and also debate spending provisions. Then, it has to be approved by a majority of committee members. All of this must happen before the 90th day of the Legislative Session (April 12th), which is when the committee is required to submit their appropriations bill to the House for consideration. Meanwhile, this entire process is being mirrored in the Senate Finance Committee. 

Full House
Once the committee's recommendation has been submitted to the House, the bill will come up for consideration. At this point, every member will have a chance to debate, amend, and vote on the entire bill. As one might imagine, this is a lengthy process which historically keeps legislators at work through the night. While not the most efficient process, this gives every member a chance to fight for their priorities and constituents. Once debate has concluded, the House will vote to pass the bill. 

Conference 
As mentioned earlier, the House and the Senate each pass their own version of the appropriations bill. Each chamber will then send a handful of representatives to a conference committee, tasked with ironing out the differences between the two bills. Once the conferees have agreed to a compromise, both chambers must again vote on the final bill. 

Wrapping Up
Once the House and the Senate have passed the final appropriations bill, it will head to the Governor's desk.

As I've said before, this is the only must-pass bill of the session. It is a $250 billion-plus expression of our state government's priorities and focus for the next two years, and we will be continuously updating you on how things are progressing.   



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COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during the next few months, I encourage you to contact my Austin office (512-463-0534) to get the latest updates on health and safety protocols before making the trip down.  The rules are constantly changing. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • The Capitol is open from 9am - 6 pm, Monday - Friday.
  • The House Gallery will be open to the public at reduced capacity.
  • Committee hearings will be open to the public both in-person and virtually. 
  • A mask must be worn over the mouth and nose while in the building.
  • There are no public tours, groups, or sponsored event spaces.
  • All visitors must enter the Capitol through the north door.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing is available prior to entering the Capitol (located outside, north of the building).
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