Texas' 82nd Legislature – a bumpy ride?

The Texas Legislature opened its 2011 session yesterday amid a great deal of fanfare, but little substance at this point.  However, we can expect more interesting things to happen starting today when the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission makes their legislative recommendations for such controvercial agencies as the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and even the Public Utility Commission, who have come under some scrutiny during the hearings that were held back in December of last year. 

Yesterday the Republican caucus gathered to hash out what turned into a fizzled leadership challenge.  Today the Texas House met and affirmed Speaker Joe Straus‘ leadership, so we will move forward.  We still expect some changes in committee membership and leadership (in part due to the vast numbers of freshmen legislators that came out of the backlash elections in November), but perhaps not so much as might have been expected from a change in the speakership.  Most interesting as we begin this session is the gigantic budget shortfall that could change state government as the people have come to know it.

Republicans, having amassed their largest House majority in Texas history, now dominate the Legislature. Most of them are promising to make deep cuts in spending, balance the budget without new taxes, re-visit ID requirements for voters, “crack down” on illegal immigration and require women to get a sonogram — and then look at it — before having an abortion.

In remarks to the Senate yesterday, Perry warned lawmakers it won’t be easy to balance a budget facing such a massive shortfall.  The official revenue estimate shows the state is short billions — as much as $27 billion — of the amount that would be required to maintain the current level of services when adjusted for inflation and caseload growth.  Proportionally, Texas’ budget shortfall is worse than that of California and it is likely that any new initiatives that have a fiscal impact on the state’s budget bill, will go down in flames.

Democrats blamed Republican leaders for creating the shortfall and posit that critical programs will be curtailed as a result.

In the inimitable words of Bette Davis in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”