WEEK IN REVIEW
SESSION BEGINS, PERRY SAYS GOODBYE
(Austin) — The Legislature has opened the 84th Session, beginning one that will be very different from the last. The Senate welcomed eight new freshmen members on Tuesday, with a ninth on the way following a runoff in San Antonio's Senate District 26. For the first time since 2003, a new person will serve as the body's president, with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst presiding over his last Senate session this week. "I think we've made Texas better," Dewhurst told the members on his last day on the dais. "More people have jobs than ever in the history of the State of Texas, the crime rate is down and if you look at the statistics, our children are getting a better education." Incoming Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick will assume the office when he is sworn-in on Tuesday, January 20th.
The other big change this session is at the very top, as Governor Rick Perry exits and Governor-elect Greg Abbott takes his place. Perry has served since 2000, and his 14 year tenure as the state's top official is unprecedented in Texas history. The Senate and House met in joint session Thursday to hear his valedictory address, where Perry credited the state's economic success throughout his term to strong conservative principles. "I have been guided by a simple philosophy: that job creation, not higher taxation, is the best form of revenue generation," he said. "Our formula for success is simple: keep taxes low, implement smart regulations, provide an educated workforce and stop lawsuit abuse at the courthouse." Perry also struck a bipartisan tone in his speech, asking members of both parties to set aside differences and work together for the good of the state. "Compromise is not a dirty word if it moves Texas forward," said Perry. "If members of this body will work across party lines, put Texas first, I believe the best is yet to come."
Also this week, the state Comptroller issued his biennial revenue estimate, setting the spending limit for lawmakers crafting the state budget for the next two years. According to newly sworn-in Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the state can expect $110 billion in revenue in 2016 and 2017, along with $7.5 billion in surplus from the last biennial budget. Subtract $5 billion mandated for the Rainy Day and Transportation funds, and the end total comes to $113 billion, more than the $101 billion revenue estimate from 2013. Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick said at a press conference last week that he wants to make tax cuts a priority for the upcoming session, along with border security and college tuition reform, so budget writers could use new money to meet those goals.
Wednesday the Sunset Advisory Commission met to conclude its business conducted over the interim. Composed of five Senators, five Representatives and two public members, the Commission is charged with the periodic review of state agencies to evaluate their function and scope. This interim, Commission Chair Senator Jane Nelson said that the recommendations issued by the panel could save half a billion dollars. "I would say taxpayers are getting their money's worth out of the Sunset process," she said. Probably the most significant change recommended by the Sunset Commission is the consolidation of the five state health and human services agencies into a single one, under the umbrella of the Health and Human Services Commission. This change is aimed at streamlining operations, eliminating redundancies and saving tax payer money. All recommendations approved by the Commission this week must still be passed by the Legislature.
The Senate will reconvene for the Inauguration of the Governor and Lt. Governor on Tuesday, January 20th, at 11 a.m.