LEGISLATURE BEGINS 83RD SESSION; LEADERSHIP CALLS FOR FISCAL DISCIPLINE
|The members of the Senate of the 83rd Legislature are sworn-in on opening day.|
(Austin) — As the Texas Senate began its 83rd Legislative session Tuesday, Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst both told lawmakers to keep spending down as they work on the state budget. Monday's revenue estimate from the Comptroller predicts the state will bring in $101 billion in revenue over the next two years, giving legislators about $24 billion more to work with compared to last biennium. Dewhurst reminded Senators why he believes Texas is in such a good fiscal position relative to the rest of the country. "This state is fiscally number one, economically number one and by passing a conservative budget we can stay that way," he said.
In his opening day speech, Dewhurst identified several areas he wants the Senate to prioritize as it works on a budget. Citing the state's growing population, which will double in size by the middle of the century, Dewhurst told lawmakers to consider beefing up Texas' infrastructure to deal with increased demand. He wants more public water capacity and highway capacity as well as improvements to the state's public school system.
|Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is administered the oath of office as President Pro Tempore by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, putting her third in the line of succession for governor.|
Governor Perry was also invited to address the body, and the central theme of his speech was the same as his presidential campaign last year: strong fiscal discipline. He warned lawmakers that the increased revenue estimate did not mean they should spend all that they can. "Monday's revenue estimate represents not a chance to spend freely, but an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very policies that made Texas economically strong," said Perry. "It's also a chance to put our fiscal house in order for years to come." The governor said he wants to end the practice of diverting funds from their statutory purpose to cover spending in other areas. He also promoted a constitutional cap on spending and zero tax hikes in the future. Finally, he said the state's emergency relief, or Rainy Day Fund, scheduled to grow to more than $12 billion over the biennium, should not be used to pay for ongoing expenses.
After the Governor's speech, the Senate elected a new president pro tempore. Every session, the body elects one of its own to serve in this office, which puts that person third in the line of succession for governor. This year, the Senate elected San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who came to the Senate in 1999 after nearly a decade of service in the House. In nominating her, Van de Putte's colleagues praised her for her dedication to and compassion for the people of Texas, especially military veterans. In accepting the office, Van de Putte told her fellow Senators that the state must prepare for the changing face of a future Texas.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, January 9 at 11 a.m.