WEEK IN REVIEW
83RD LEGISLATURE BEGINS SESSION
(Austin) — Legislators began the 83rd Regular Session with a much more rosy fiscal picture than when they came back to Austin in 2011. The biennial revenue estimate issued Monday by State Comptroller Susan Combs is $24 billion more than the estimate from two years ago. Lawmakers crafting the budget will have $101.4 billion in general revenue available to fund state services, but Governor Rick Perry told the Senate in an address on Tuesday that they shouldn't overspend. "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. He called on Senators to end the practice of diverting dedicated funds to other purposes, to pass a constitutional spending limit and to leave the state's Rainy Day Fund, expected to reach $12 billion by the end of the biennium, alone.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst also told the body to maintain fiscal discipline, but said that there are critical needs the state must meet if it is to keep up with rapid population growth. "This session we're going to be looking at solving infrastructure problems of the state for decades to come," he said. "Improving public education, over time doubling our drinking water capacity, doubling our highway capacity, and keeping Texas number one."
Senators voted Wednesday to preserve one of the Senate's longest held traditions, the two-thirds rule. This requires that any bill must receive the support of at least two-thirds of the Senators present to be considered for passage. In recent years, some members have expressed dissatisfaction with the rule, saying it severely limits the majority from passing needed legislation. Some have proposed lowering the threshold from two-thirds to a 60 percent majority, or even getting rid of the rule altogether. The rules proposed Wednesday, however, were passed with unanimous support.
Proponents of the two-thirds rule believe that it protects the minority in the Senate from being ignored by the majority. This protection goes beyond party affiliation; for example, it also protects Senators from rural districts from being subordinate to the urban Senate districts. Supporters believe that the higher threshold forces more cooperation and compromise, ultimately resulting in better, smarter legislation. "It's a good rule, it's a good tradition that we should continue to observe," said Dallas Senator Royce West, speaking Wednesday in favor of the resolution.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 14 at 1:30 p.m.