WHAT'S NEW . . .
• I'm planning to hold the next hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on October 25th in Austin. You can also visit www.bandc.posterous.com to stay updated on this hearing, as well as other future committee business.
• Have you had issues with your home mortgage servicing company? If so, I would like to know about it. Please send an email, including your name and physical address, along with the details of your experience to firstname.lastname@example.org. Recent news stories on this matter concern me, and I want to know if Senate District 16 residents have experienced problems with home mortgage servicing companies.
• Fall midterm elections are on Tuesday, November 2nd. You must register by October 4th in order to be eligible to vote in November. The Secretary of State has set up a new website, www.votexas.org, with a link to a voter's registration application, as well as other helpful information about the elections, such as early voting dates and local voting locations. Dallas County residents please visit www.dalcoelections.org for voter registration and election information.
FOCUS . . . Rainy Day Fund
During each regular session of the Legislature, the Texas Constitution charges legislators with the task of writing a balanced state budget for the next two years. Each session, lawmakers write the budget based on how much money the State Comptroller estimates will be available for the upcoming biennium. A majority of the state's revenue, about 60%, comes from the sales tax. Because of declining sales tax receipts, as well as a number of other factors such as the economic downturn and increased costs for health care and education, the amount of money available to the Legislature is projected to be considerably less than needed to pay for current programs.
When the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January 2011, members will have to contend with this substantial budget shortfall. While the exact amount of the shortfall is not yet known (estimates vary between $10-21 billion), there has been considerable speculation on how the Legislature will balance the budget. One of the most frequently mentioned ways is for the Legislature to access the state's Rainy Day Fund.
The Rainy Day Fund originated in 1987 when the state was experiencing economic upheaval and faced a budget shortfall much like that of today. When the Legislature convened that January, members wanted to create a tool to improve the state's ability to respond to unexpected fluctuations or declines in revenue. The Legislature's solution to this problem was establishment of the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund.
The Rainy Day Fund acts as a savings account for setting aside revenue in case of an unexpected shortfall in the future. In order for the Legislature to access this money to plug a budget hole, both the House and Senate must record a 3/5 favorable vote of members. If members choose to spend money in this manner, the amount of money obtained from the Rainy Day Fund cannot exceed the amount of the estimated shortfall. If the Legislature wants to use the money to fund something other than a shortfall, it must obtain a 2/3 favorable vote of members in both the House and Senate. Deposits into the Rainy Day Fund can come from two different sources: general revenue surplus at the end of the biennium and excess taxes from oil and natural gas production. However, oil and gas revenue generally makes up the bulk of the Fund. The Rainy Day Fund is capped at 10% of the total general revenue budget. To date, this cap has not been reached.
Comptroller Susan Combs estimates that the Rainy Day Fund will have about $9 billion available during the 2011 Session of the Legislature. While some may be tempted to drain the Rainy Day Fund to address the projected budget shortfall, maintaining a reserve balance of at least 5% of the general revenue funds spent next session will ensure Texas holds on to its AAA bond rating. I believe the budget must be thoroughly reviewed and reduced before any consideration of tapping the Rainy Day Fund. The 82nd Legislature - and Texans - will have to make hard decisions about what we expect the state government to do and how much we are willing to pay for it.
If you would like to learn more about the budget writing process, check out the Senate Research Center's publication, Budget 101 - A Guide to the Budget Process in Texas.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
• One of the leading information sources on geothermal energy is right here, the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory. From their website http://smu.edu/geothermal/ you can learn about the 140 schools and over 10,000 homes with geothermal heat pump systems in Texas, as well as ways this natural resource can work for you.
• Go Texan Restaurant Roundup is a program sponsored by the Texas Department of Agriculture that links participating Texas restaurants to local producers of Texas-grown and processed food. To find a list of participating members, visit http://www.gotexan.org/restaurantroundup/.
STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES . . .
• Texas Comptroller Susan Combs publishes an online version of the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Compendium of Texas Colleges and Financial Aid Calendar. The Compendium contains information such as a list of Texas colleges and universities, admission requirements, and tuition along with a calendar containing scholarship deadlines.
• The Comptroller's office has built a website, www.getalife.tx.gov, to help middle school students start planning for the future. On the site, students can explore different careers, get advice, and learn ways to begin to plan for their future.
IN CLOSING . . .
Cooler temperatures have arrived in North Texas just in time for the State Fair. The weather should be perfect for the Red River Rivalry this weekend - Hook 'em Horns! And don't forget the voter registration deadline - Oct. 4th!
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205