Constitutional Spending Limit - The Legislative Budget Board met last Friday to review and adopt the Article VIII spending limit on appropriations from tax revenue not dedicated by the Constitution for the 2020-21 biennium. Estimates of Texas personal income growth from the current biennium to the 2020-21 biennium were provided from five sources. The LBB adopted the rate of 9.89 percent, which is approximately the average of the lowest rate (8.11 percent provided by Texas A&M University's Department of Economics) and the 11.52 percent rate provided by Moody's Analytics. It is slightly under the 10.29 percent provided by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. Other estimates were provides by IHS Markit of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (10.78 percent) and the Perryman Group (13.06 percent).
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick commented on the spending limit saying, "The people of Texas elected us to produce a responsible and conservative budget that addresses the pressing challenges currently facing our state, including issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today's vote by the LBB ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and underscores our firm commitment to those principles."
House and Senate Budgets -
On Tuesday night, the Legislative Budget Board released details of the House budget proposal. It has not been officially filed yet, but it will eventually be introduced as HB 1. On Wednesday, Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) filed SB 1, the Senate's budget proposal. Here is a comparison:
All Funds - The House budget has an all funds total of $247.227 billion. SB 1 has an all funds total of $242.867 billion, $4.36 billion less than the House proposal.
General Government - The House budget proposal has a 10.3 percent decrease over the current biennium, or $773.8 million less. SB 1 has a 17.6 percent decrease, or $1.317 billion less.
Health and Human Services
- The House budget proposal has a 1.5 percent increase over the current biennium, or $1.242 billion more. SB 1 also has a 1.5 percent increase, but the SB 1 numbers are $1.240 billion more.
- The House budget proposal has a 16.7 percent increase over the current biennium, or $10.123 billion more. SB 1 has an 11.6 percent increase, or $7.006 billion more.
- The House budget proposal has a 1.6 percent increase over the current biennium, or $335.8 million more. SB 1 also has a 1.6 percent increase, but the SB 1 figure is $342.1 million more.
- The House budget proposal has a 2.1 percent increase over the current biennium, or $18.4 million more. The Senate proposal has a 2.5 percent decrease, or $21.6 million less.
Public Safety and Criminal Justice
- The House budget proposal has a 16.2 percent decrease over the current biennium, or $2.971 billion less. SB 1 has a 15.8 percent decrease, or $2.904 billion less.
- The House budget proposal has a 35.6 percent increase over the current biennium, or, a $2.339 billion increase. SB 1 has 34.5 percent more, or a $2.266 billion increase.
Business and Economic Development
- The House budget proposal has a 3.2 percent increase over the current biennium, or a $1.183 billion increase. SB 1 has a 1.4 percent increase, or a $512.1 million increase.
- The House budget proposal has a decrease of 5.7 percent, or $38 million less. SB 1 has a 3 percent decrease, or $35.5 million less.
- The House budget proposal has a decrease of 0.8 percent, or a $0.2 million decrease. SB 1 has a 2.7 percent increase, or a $10.6 million increase.
Specifics of the budget proposals:
Foundation School Program
- The House budget has $52.6 billion in All Funds (AF) state aid to school districts and charter schools through the Foundation School Program (FSP). Of that, General Revenue (GR) for the FSP totals $42 billion, which represents an increase of $7.4 billion from the current biennium, an increase of $9 billion over what is estimated to be required to fund the current law FSP entitlement, contingent on enactment of legislation supporting school districts and charter schools by increasing the state share of the FSP, enhancing district entitlement, reducing recapture, and providing local property tax relief. The AF amount represents a $9.9 billion, or a 23.1 percent, increase over the current biennium, primarily attributable to the additional $9.0 billion in GR above statutorily required amounts. The remaining $0.9 billion AF increase is attributable to a projected increase of $2.4 billion in recapture revenue and a projected $171.7 million increase from the Property Tax Relief Fund, partially offset by a decrease of $1.6 billion in General Revenue Funds required to fund current law entitlement. SB 1 provides funding of $43.6 billion in AF for state aid to school districts and charter schools through the FSP. The AF amount reflects a $0.9 billion, or 2.1 percent, increase from the current biennium.
- Both proposals provide funding for current law FSP entitlement including an estimated $2.4 billion for student enrollment growth. These figures are based on an estimated 65,000 additional students per year.
Additional State Aid/Guaranteed Yield
- Both proposals provide $2.2 billion in additional state aid greater than the current biennial funding level for the Tier 2 enrichment funding guaranteed yield associated with the Austin Independent School District.
FSP Other Funds
- Both proposals provide an increase of FSP Other Funds of $2.5 billion, attributable to a projected $2.4 billion increase in recapture payments and a projected $171.7 million increase from the Property Tax Relief Fund.
Instructional Materials and Technology
- Both bills provide instructional materials and technology funding of $1.106 billion in GR based on a distribution rate of 50 percent of the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund. The funding level is a $2.6 million increase from current biennial appropriations, but a $166.7 million decrease from 2018-19 biennial budgeted amounts, attributable to $169.6 million in unexpended balances from fiscal year 2017 carried into the 2018-19 biennium.
Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools
- The House proposal keeps funding for the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program at $5 million for the biennium. The SB increases P-TECH funding to $8 million for the biennium.
- The House proposal includes funding for school safety programs of an additional $109.4 million in AF, including $64.9 million in GR, $43.6 million in Other Funds from the Economic Stabilization Fund, and $0.8 million in Federal Funds at the Health and Human Services Commission and public and higher education agencies and institutions. AF amounts for the 2020-21 biennium include the following areas:
Health and Human Services Commission - $11.8 million to expand Children's Community Mental Health;
Public Education - $54.5 million for the Safe and Healthy Schools Initiative, and an increase of $10.0 million for Communities in Schools at the Texas Education Agency; $1.1 million for campus safety staff and
infrastructure at the Texas School for the Deaf; and $0.8 million for campus safety infrastructure at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; and
Higher Education - $20.0 million for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Program (TWITR); and, at Texas State University, $7.2 million for the School Safety Center and $4.0 for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.
Contingencies for Teacher Salary Increase and for Property Tax Relief
and Reducing Reliance on Recapture
- SB 1 includes funding of $3.7 billion in GR for classroom teacher salary increases, contingent on enactment of legislation providing a classroom teacher salary increase. SB 1 also includes funding of $2.3 billion in GR for property tax relief and reducing reliance on recapture paid by school districts, contingent on enactment of legislation providing property tax relief and reducing reliance on recapture paid by school districts.
Teacher Retirement and Health Benefits
- Both the House and Senate proposals include funding of $4.1 billion in AF for the state contribution to retirement benefits of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), including $4.1 billion in GR, $48.8 million in General Revenue-Dedicated (GR-D), and $9.1 million in Other Funds from the TRS Pension Trust Fund. Funding represents a state contribution rate of 6.8 percent of employee payroll for each year of the 2020-21 biennium. Retiree health insurance funding totals $1.1 billion in AF. Funding includes $879.4 million in GR to provide a statutorily required state contribution to TRS-Care of 1.25 percent of public education payroll. The House proposal includes funding of $230.8 million greater than statutorily required amounts from the Economic Stabilization Fund to maintain plan year 2019 TRS-Care premiums and benefits for the 2020-21 biennium. SB 1 includes the same amount from GR. In both proposals, the funding for TRS assumes 3.9 percent annual public education payroll growth across retirement and TRS-Care strategies and 5.6 percent annual higher education payroll growth.
Higher Education Formula Funding
- In both the House and Senate budget proposals, higher education formulas are supported by $7.3 billion in GR and $1.5 billion in GR-D. Included in this amount are increases of $158.4 million in GR and an increase of $55.9 million in GR-D, which primarily is statutory tuition. For most of the higher education formulas, the 2018-19 biennial rate is maintained. There are a few differences.
The House bill has:
* For the Lamar State Colleges (LSC), the Instruction and Administration Formula rate is increased to $5.23.
* For the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler's Chest Disease Center Operations formula, the rate decreases to $183 from $187 per chest disease patient due to a growth limitation for mission-specific formulas.
SB 1 has:
* For the Texas State Technical Colleges, the funding increases by an additional $30.1 million to fund the Returned Value formula at 36.0 percent.
Medicaid - Funding in both the House and Senate proposals includes $67.6 billion in AF, $25.2 billion in GR and $0.1 billion in GR-D, an increase of $2 billion in AF and a decrease of $1.4 billion in GR from the current biennium. Included in these amounts is $62.9 billion for Medicaid client services, $1.7 billion for programs supported by Medicaid funding, and $2.9 billion for administration of the Medicaid program and other programs supported by Medicaid funding. The net increase in Medicaid funding is due to a $2.0 billion AF increase in Medicaid client services and a $69.2 million AF increase in other programs supported by Medicaid funding offset by a $33.7 million AF decrease in administrative funding. More favorable Federal Medical Assistance Percentages result in a higher proportion of the program being funded with Federal Funds, more than offsetting increased GR demand associated with caseload and costs, resulting in an overall decrease to GR of $1.4 billion.
Child Protective Services
- Funding in both the House and Senate proposals include $3.7 billion in AF, including $2.1 billion in GR, provided for all Child Protective Services (CPS) functions at the Department of Family Services (DFPS), an increase of $141.7 million in AF and $45.1 million in GR over the current biennium. CPS funding includes a total of $1.9 billion in AF and $895.6 million in GR for client services programs, including foster care, adoption subsidies, permanency care assistance payments, relative caregiver monetary assistance payments, and daycare.
- Both the House and Senate funding proposals include $4.0 billion in AF. The House proposal has $3.0 billion in GR and GR-D for non-Medicaid/Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) behavioral health services, while SB 1 has $3.1 billion. The House proposal supports funding for programs at 23 agencies (SB 1 has 21 agencies) across six articles, and includes the following areas: funding for inpatient client services at state hospitals and community hospitals; outpatient services provided through local mental health authorities; substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment services for adults and children; mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment for incarcerated offenders; mental healthcare services for veterans; and other services.
- Recommendations in both the House and Senate proposals provide $31.6 billion in AF for all functions at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which includes the following amounts:
* an estimated $5.0 billion in funding from anticipated state sales tax deposits and $0.1 billion from motor vehicle sales and rental tax deposits to the State Highway Fund (SHF) (Proposition 7, 2015);
* $4.3 billion in funding from oil and natural gas tax-related transfers to the SHF (Proposition 1, 2014); and
* all available SHF funding from traditional transportation tax and fee revenue sources (estimated to be $9.3 billion for the 2020-21 biennium).
Recommendations provide $27.8 billion in AF for highway planning and design, right-of-way acquisition, construction, and maintenance and preservation. The AF amount includes:
* $10.8 billion in Federal Funds;
* $7.6 billion from traditional SHF revenue sources;
* $4.5 billion from Proposition 7, 2015, proceeds;
* $4.3 billion from Proposition 1, 2014, proceeds for constructing, maintaining, and acquiring rights-of-way for non-tolled public roadways; and
* $0.5 billion from the Texas Mobility Fund and regional toll project revenues.
Adult Incarceration - The House proposal includes funding of $6.8 billion in AF, including $6.6 billion in GR and GR-D, for the incarceration, probation, and parole of adult offenders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), (SB 1 has $6.6 billion in AF and $6.4 billion in GR and GR-D) which includes housing, security, classification, food and necessities, healthcare, and treatment services. The House proposal increases AF by $183.8 million for the 2020-21 biennium and includes the following amounts:
* a $160.0 million increase to maintain the Correctional Managed Health Care level of service at 2018-19 biennial levels;
* a $26.0 million increase for video surveillance cameras;
* a $5.3 million increase for educational and vocational pilot programs;
* a $40.0 million decrease for deferred maintenance; and
* a $7.4 million decrease to fund basic supervision and parole supervision at the Legislative Budget Board's June 2018 projections.
SB 1 has an AF increase of $4.6 million for the 2020-21 biennium and includes:
* $38.6 million transfer reimbursement for Hurricane Harvey relief;
* $10.0 million increase for video surveillance cameras;
* $2.0 million increase to expand vocational training programs;
* $40.0 million decrease for deferred maintenance; and
* $7.4 million decrease to fund basic supervision and parole supervision at the Legislative Budget Board's June 2018 projections.
Border Security - The House proposal provides funding of $782.8 million in AF to fund border security purposes at nine state agencies across multiple articles of government. The majority of the funding, $675.7 million, is provided to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to support DPS personnel at fiscal year 2019 full deployment levels, while eliminating funding for one time and transitional expenditures. Significant funding items include the following:
* $671.1 million in 2018-19 biennial base border security funding provided for the border security initiative, including a 50.0-hour work week for all DPS' commissioned law enforcement officers, full biennial costs for 22 Texas Rangers, and 250 new troopers and associated support staff; and several other border security-related initiatives.
* Border security funding also includes $52.0 million to the Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor for grants to local entities and
other support, $29.0 million to the Parks and Wildlife Department for enhanced game warden activity, and funding for investigations, prosecutions, and other border security-related activities across several state agencies.
SB 1 provides funding of $803.1 million in AF to fund border security also through nine state agencies. The majority of the funding ($696 million) is provided to the DPS, $435.2 million of which is in the agency's bill pattern, and other DPS funding for border security related functions and activities ($260.8 million). It maintains support for DPS personnel at fiscal year 2019 full deployment levels while eliminating one time and transitional expenditures. It includes:
* Funding for 250 new troopers and associated support staff;
* $20.3 million for Human Trafficking and Anti-Gang task forces;
* $52.0 million at Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor for grants to local entities and other support (same as the House);
* $29.0 million at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for enhanced game warden activity (same as the House);
* $3.0 million at the Soil and Water Conservation Board for Carrizo cane removal; and
* funding for investigations, prosecutions, and other border security-related activities across several state agencies.
Information Technology - Both House and Senate proposals have funding for the Centralized Accounting and Payroll/Personnel System (CAPPS) totaling $150.5 million. Included in this amount is $96.8 million for the Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA) for ongoing statewide CAPPS operations and agency transitions to the system.
Cybersecurity - House funding for Cybersecurity projects and initiatives totals $42.9 million to decrease the risk of threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of existing data and information systems. SB 1 has $50.1 million.
- House funding for Legacy Modernization projects totals $600.3 million to replace systems with obsolete or inefficient hardware or software technology. SB 1 has $609.6 million.
Other IT Projects
- Both the House and Senate proposals have funding for other information technology (IT) projects totaling $401.4 million for various IT components, including: updates to existing systems; development projects for process improvement projects, such as transitions to paperless processes, procurement of new systems where none currently exist, computers, or software and hardware updates; VoIP phone systems; network upgrades; and general modifications to IT infrastructure.
State Employee Retirement, Health Benefits, Social Security, and Full-Time-Equivalent Positions
- Both the House and Senate proposals provide funding of $1.3 billion in AF, including $943.0 million in GR and GR-D, for the state contribution to the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) retirement program. This amount assumes 0.5 percent annual payroll growth. Funding provides for a 9.5 percent state contribution rate for each fiscal year of the 2020-21 biennium. Recommendations also continue the additional retirement contribution from all general state agencies of 0.5 percent of the total base wages and salaries for each eligible employee for a total combined state contribution rate of 10.0 percent, the maximum pursuant to the Texas Constitution.
Group Insurance Benefits
- Both proposals include $2.8 billion in GR and GR-D, for the state contribution for group insurance benefits for general state employees, retirees, and their dependents. The funding is an increase of $176.6 million in AF, including $116.6 million in GR and GR-D, driven by assumed active and retired member growth. Funding does not provide a per-member contribution rate increase and instead relies upon the agency spending down the contingency reserve fund, which has achieved historically high fund balances due to savings in health plan contracts.
- Both proposals provide funding of $1.8 billion in AF, including $1.4 billion in GR and GR-D, for the state contribution for Social Security payroll taxes for employees of state agencies and institutions of higher education, an increase of $47.6 million. Funding is sufficient to provide the 6.2 percent Social Security employer contribution and the 1.45 percent Medicare employer contribution.
- Both proposals provide funding for the 2020-21 biennium that fully funds debt service and totals $4.2 billion in AF. (The House materials say that this amount is a decrease of $60.9 million, and the Senate materials say that this amount is a decrease of $84.7 million.) Both say it is a 2.0 percent change from the 2018-19 biennium. Funding provides for debt service for General Obligation and revenue debt issued, or expected to be issued, by the Texas Public Finance Authority, the Facilities Commission, the Water Development Board, the Department of Transportation, and the Office of the Governor. Funding also provides for reimbursement of debt service payments for tuition revenue bonds issued by various institutions.
Economic Stabilization Fund - The House proposal includes appropriations of $633.0 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) for the 2020-21 biennium. The resulting cash balance of the fund plus the total asset value of investments is estimated to be $14.7 billion at the end of fiscal year 2021. SB 1 does not include any appropriations from the ESF. Without an appropriation from the ESF, SB 1 lists the estimated total asset value of investments to be $15.4 billion at the end of fiscal year 2021.
Trusteed Programs Within the Office of the Governor
- The House proposal provides funding for the Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor totaling $1.278 billion in AF for the 2020-21 biennium, a decrease of $202.2 million, or 13.7 percent, from the current biennium. Funding of $100.0 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund is provided for disaster grants. Funding in the strategy for various economic development programs totals $365.0 million in AF for the 2020-21 biennium. SB 1 provides funding for the Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor totaling $1.2 billion in AF for the 2020-21 biennium, a decrease of $320.2 million, or 21.6 percent, from the current biennium. A comparison of the two bills by programs:
Texas Enterprise Fund - The House proposal provides $111.9 million in estimated unexpended balances remaining at the end of fiscal year 2019 in the Texas Enterprise Fund to be carried forward for incentive grants, a decrease of $45.3 million in GR-D. SB 1 provides $100 million in carried forward funds, a decrease of $57.3 million in GR-D from the current biennium.
Governor's University Research Initiative - The House proposal appropriates $26.2 million in estimated unexpended balances remaining at the end of fiscal year 2019 in the Governor's University Research Initiative for recruitment grants, a decrease of $27.1 million in GR-D. SB 1 does not mention the Governor's University Research Initiative.
Tourism - Both the House and Senate proposals include $100.4 million in GR-D from Hotel Occupancy Tax deposits for tourism promotion. This amount is the same amount of $34.2 million appropriated for the current biennium, plus projected unobligated balances estimated at $66.2 million.
Military Value Revolving Loan Program - Both the House and Senate proposals include $50 million in General Obligation Bond Proceeds for the Military Value Revolving Loan Program for loans to defense communities for economic development projects at the Texas Military Preparedness Commission.
Disaster Relief - The House proposal provides funding of $100.0 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund for disaster grants. SB 1 appropriates all unexpended balances from disaster grant funding.
Crime Victims Assistance - SB 1 appropriates $45.8 million in federal funds for Crime Victims Assistance and Homeland Security grants.
Judicial Salary Increase - The House proposal includes funding of $30.2 million for a 10.0 percent increase for judges and those statutorily linked to state district judge pay. The last judicial salary increase was provided during the 2014-15 biennium.
Drivers License Services
- The House recommendations include the transfer of the driver license program, including $135.6 million in General Revenue and 3,198.8 FTE positions, from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Motor Vehicles for fiscal year 2021, contingent upon the passage of legislation. House recommendations also include an additional $200.0 million in GR and 962 FTE positions to increase staffing and improve service delivery.
Human Trafficking Prevention and Law Enforcement
- SB 1 includes an estimated $84.5 million for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking-related activities, an increase of $59.3 million from the current biennium. Funded initiatives include additional law enforcement, inspection and prosecution personnel at the Department of Public Safety, Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of Licensing and Regulation and the Office of the Attorney General, and prevention services at the Department of Family and Protective Services. Additionally, a Human Trafficking Coordinating Council is established to coordinate statewide anti-human trafficking efforts.
Senate Budget Proposals
- On Tuesday, Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) filed SB 1, the general appropriations bill (details are included in the budget comparison section above). She also filed SB 500, the supplemental budget, which includes funding for school safety, state hospitals, pensions, Hurricane Harvey expenses and other needs. Senator Nelson said, "Our commitment to fiscal responsibility is paying major dividends, affording us an opportunity to secure the Texas miracle for generations to come. This budget makes targeted investments in education, including a well-deserved pay raise for Texas teachers, and continues our work on transportation, mental health and other key priorities. We also ramp up our efforts to combat human trafficking, help survivors of sexual assault and protect our state against cyber attacks, which is a clear and present danger." SB 500 provides $4.2 billion ($2.5 billion out of the Economic Stabilization Fund) to cover supplemental needs for the current FY 18-19 biennium and fund several priorities, including:
* over $1 billion for Harvey-related expenses;
* $2.1 billion to address the Medicaid shortfall;
* $100 million for school safety;
* $300 million to continue the Legislature's commitment to improve state hospital facilities;
* $300 million to address pension liabilities for the Employees Retirement System and another $300 million to address the same issue for the Teacher Retirement System;
* $211 million to pay obligations of the Texas Tomorrow Fund;
* $160 million to address the Correctional Managed Health Care shortfall;
* $100 million to refill the Governor's Disaster Fund to help rebuild from natural disasters; and
* $113 million to address supplemental needs at the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Senator Nelson concluded, "This is just the first step in a long budget process. The Senate Finance Committee will further develop SB 1 and SB 500 and make recommendations to the full Senate."
Texas Medical Association - The Texas Medical Association (TMA) has released its legislative priorities. Texas physicians say they are ready to fight for their patients in the upcoming session. TMA's agenda priorities include Medicaid improvements, better coverage for women during pregnancy and after giving birth, appropriate insurers' accountability for the products they sell, and more funding for community mental health. Specifically:
Medicaid and CHIP -TMA will focus on securing more funding for physicians to treat Medicaid patients and to revitalize Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) physician networks. Jason Terk, MD, chair of TMA's Council on Legislation said, "For nearly two decades, Medicaid's low payment rates have pushed many physicians out of the program. In the 2016 TMA Physician Survey, 60 percent of physicians said they did not treat Medicaid managed care patients because payment was too low to cover the cost of providing services."
Maternal Health - Currently, Medicaid covers low-income women for only two months after the birth of a child. TMA recommends that Texas apply for a federal waiver that would extend coverage to one year.
Health Insurance Reform - TMA supports patient-friendly health insurance reforms, including mandates to reduce surprise medical bills, maintain adequate networks of physicians and providers, and reduce red tape for patients; require more accountability of health insurance plans that deny or delay medical treatment and payment; protect patients from unqualified providers who attempt to give medical treatment without a medical degree; ensure patient care decisions are made by doctors, not corporations, to protect patients and their physicians' clinical autonomy; pass the Texas Medical Board (TMB) sunset bill to renew TMB for 12 more years; fund medical residency programs to keep more medical school students in Texas after they graduate; and curb the authority of pharmacy benefit managers that can steer patients away from the medications that are effective in treating their conditions and help ensure the best possible patient care.
Medicaid Expansion - On Wednesday, Representative John H. Bucy III (D-Austin) filed HB 840 and HJR 46 to expand Medicaid in Texas. Representative Bucy said, "Medicaid expansion will help millions of Texans get the healthcare they need, bring billions of dollars back into the state economy, and lower all of our health insurance premiums. Too many of our neighbors are having to choose between putting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads, or accessing the healthcare they need - and that's wrong. HB 840 would expand the number of Texans eligible to participate in Medicaid by nearly 1.5 million, including 12,190 Williamson County residents. It is estimated to create 1,985 jobs annually and bring in over $41.1 million in federal health care dollars to the county each year. HJR 46 would provide for the expansion of Medicaid by constitutional amendment, which if passed by the legislature, would be submitted to the voters for an election in November 2019. The 2018 election was a clear mandate that the time for business as usual is over. After a decade of inaction on this matter the people of Texas should be given the opportunity to correct it at the ballot box. Estimates show that the state is losing out on $100 billion in funding over 10 years. Texas has the highest number and percentage of uninsured people in the nation."
Tuition Cap - On Tuesday, Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) announced the filing of HB 132, which would cap tuition at current levels unless the legislature authorizes an increase. Representative Gonzalez said, 'The average yearly tuition and fees for a four-year university in Texas is $8,091. This plus the cost of living and other incidentals adds up. In fact, students graduating in Texas with a Bachelor's degree leave with an average debt of $30,516, which is over 70% of their first-year wages. This issue hits students of color even harder, with African American student debt comprising over 100 percent of their first-year wages. The legislature has a responsibility to ensure that students can
focus on their academics and navigating their futures without a vast financial burden. In 2003, the Texas Legislature de-regulated tuition, which makes universities and colleges responsible for setting tuition rates. Since 2003, tuition and fees have more than doubled, severely outpacing inflation by thousands of dollars. The ballooning price of higher education opens the door to increased student loan debt and financial instability for students. We have some of the best colleges and universities in the country in Texas. Students should be able to choose which university or college they want to attend, without putting themselves in severe debt. This bill will return responsibility to the legislature to increase access to higher education and safeguard our students' futures."
Repeal of Recapture - On January 11th, Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) filed HB 712, which would repeal the recapture ("Robin Hood") provisions of the public school finance law. Representative Landgraf said, "HB 712 offers a full repeal of recapture provisions, otherwise known as 'Robin Hood,' which send a portion of funds from so-called property wealthy school districts to other school districts across the state. Over the years, the Robin Hood system has placed a disproportionately large burden on taxpayers in the oil patch to fund public schools in other parts of Texas. But, our students and teachers here in the Permian Basin also pay a high price for this scheme. Tremendous growth in oil and gas production has led to many school districts in the Permian Basin to be deemed 'property wealthy' and are under the undue burden of the Robin Hood law. Most Permian Basin school districts are currently experiencing some of the highest population growth rates in the nation, leading to large classroom sizes and widespread teacher shortages. The result is that West Texas schools have money forced out of their budgets at a time when its needed most for their teachers and students. My bill would eliminate this objectionable practice. This new downside of recapture only adds to the argument that the state must repeal 'Robin Hood' and replace it with a better plan to provide adequate funding for Texas public schools. An increase in funding for each student in Texas is something that our state must do in order to prepare our students for the next generation of high-paying jobs that will allow Texas to remain prosperous."
Teacher Pay Increase
- On Tuesday, Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) filed SB 3 providing a $5,000 annual salary increase for every classroom teacher in Texas. Senator Nelson said, "The most important investment we can make in education is in our teachers. They are the key factor in preparing our students for success. Teaching has always been a labor of love, but we need to elevate the profession, recruit the best and brightest to the classrooms and compensate our teachers for the critical role they play in shaping the future of Texas." SB 3:
* Provides a permanent $5,000 annual salary increase to approximately 350,000 classroom teachers;
* Directs that the pay increase is paid for by the state with funding flowing through a new Classroom Teacher Salary Allotment;
* Stipulates that the additional state funding must pass through districts for the sole purpose of raising each classroom teacher's pay by $5,000 over their salary for the 2018-19 school year; and
* Has an estimated cost of $3.7 billion in the FY 20-21 budget.
School Safety and Mental Health - Also on Tuesday, Representative Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) announced three pieces of legislation tackling public school safety and addressing the mental health needs of Texas' children. Thierry said that the impetus for the bills is the alarming rise in student suicide and school violence in Texas. She said, "As the mother of a six-year old child attending a Houston area public school, I deeply identify with the fears parents now face on a daily basis, as they drop their children off at school. Most would agree that children are our most treasured assets. They should be able to learn and thrive without the fear that at any given moment, they may be the next victim of a school shooting. I am striving for school environments that support mental wellness and are free from lethal weapons entering the building." The bills are:
* HB198 would allow school boards to appoint licensed mental health providers to assist in the formulation and design of mental health education, care and services.
* HB 204 would mandate the inclusion of mental health in the current health enrichment curriculum.
* HB 796 would require the use of metal detectors in all Texas public schools.
Representative Thierry concluded, "For decades, our schools have provided instruction on physical health such as proper nutrition and exercise, but information is completely missing on how our mental health directly correlates with our well-being. Our schools' curriculum even provides instruction on dental health. In the era of increased student suicides and school violence, it would seem that mental health would be a given. Our schools should be just as safe as airports, courthouses and government buildings. Our children are our most vulnerable population, certainly they deserve the same level of security and protection as legislators entering the state capitol."
Toll Transparency - On Monday, Freshman Representative Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) filed HB 803, a transparency measure requiring all Texas toll road entities to publish toll road-specific financial data, instead of just system-wide information. Representative Patterson said, "The legislation is a major step forward for toll transparency. Residents of House District 106 are triple-taxed on transportation. We pay the gas tax, we pay tolls for our roads, and then we pay tolls to build roads in other areas. It's time to shed light on each toll road individually so Texans have a better understanding of what their tolls are paying for and when the tolls can be reduced or eliminated. This bill is a step toward that goal. House District 106 contains three major toll projects - the Dallas North Tollway, the Sam Rayburn Tollway, and the Lewisville Lake Bridge. Operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority, a regional tolling entity, revenues from these
roads finance work in other areas of the metroplex. I know well the burdens carried by many Denton County drivers paying hundreds of dollars per month in tolls. People have a right to know the financial disposition of each toll project, not just the toll system as a whole. Currently, this information is not readily available. Tolling authorities need to change that."
Texas Workforce Commission - The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is mourning the passing of its Executive Director Larry Temple, who faithfully served the state of Texas for over two decades, from 1997 until 2019. TWC Chair Ruth Hugs said, "It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Executive Director Larry Temple. No words can adequately express our sadness at Mr. Temple's death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. Mr. Temple was an unstoppable force. His commitment to helping the Texas workforce system changed thousands of individual lives. A devoted husband, loving father, honest and steadfast friend, exemplary worker, leader and someone with an oversized sense of humor who had the ability to make everyone smile - this is how we will always remember Mr. Temple." Mr. Temple came to the agency in 1997, serving first as Director of Welfare Reform for six years, and then served as Executive Director for 14 years (2004-2019).