P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923
PREVIEWING THE 2009 LEGISLATURE
by Senator Jane Nelson
When the Texas Legislature convenes on Tuesday for its 81st Regular Session, the national economic situation will cast a long shadow over our decisions. Across the nation, budget shortfalls are forcing the vast majority of states to either cut services, raise taxes or, in some cases, ask the federal government for a bailout.
Fortunately, Texas is one of six states with positive cash flow heading into the legislative session. Our comptroller estimates that the state budget will be $11.8 billion in the black, largely because our economy has held up better than other states during this national crisis.
However, no one can predict with certainty when the national economy will rebound. No one can say for sure how long the Texas economy can remain strong in these conditions. This uncertainty, combined with pressing service needs that must be addressed by the Legislature, will make for a tight budget session.
Our North Texas delegation will work as a team to advance our regional priorities, starting with transportation. This is not only a quality-of-life issue for our area, but transportation impacts our economy, air quality, the flow of goods and services, and the ability of public safety personnel to respond in an emergency. With the Department of Transportation up for Sunset review, transportation promises to once again be one of the dominant issues of the session. And we must fight to put transportation at the top of our budget priority list.
Equally important to our community will be ensuring that children have access to a quality education. As a former public school teacher, I believe that every dollar spent on education is a wise investment. But funding alone will not solve our education challenges.
We need to restore discipline in the classroom, support teachers, and involve parents in their child's education. The Legislature will delve into those issues, as well as proposals to improve special education and to lessen the focus on standardized tests and get back to the basics of teaching children.
Higher education must also be addressed. With five children who attended college, I understand from first-hand experience how the rising cost of college tuition is impacting Texas families. This session I am co-authoring legislation to freeze tuition rates for two years. No one should be priced out of a college education, especially in such a difficult economy.
In addition to our local priorities, as Chairman on the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services, my efforts will focus heavily on the state's health care challenges. Last session the Legislature made significant progress on health care, but more work is needed to make Texas a healthier state.
My agenda will seek to increase access to care for our citizens; better protect our most vulnerable -- children, seniors, and the disabled; fill gaps in our health care work force, including the nursing shortage; and encourage Texans to eat right, exercise, quit smoking and take better care of their own personal health.
Of course, all of our decisions this session must occur within the limits of our state budget. There is no printing press for the dollars we spend. They come from hard working families and business people. The government must live within its means, as every business and family must.
Texans can rest assured that this Legislature will continue to provide the resources to care for those Texans who truly have no option other than the government for their health and well-being. We will work to help families and businesses through the recession. And we will continue the type of fiscal discipline that put Texas in position to weather these difficult economic times.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. The Texas Legislature reconvenes on January 13, 2009 and adjourns on June 1, 2009. To search legislation up for consideration, visit the Texas Legislature online at www.capitol.state.tx.us.