House Ends Successful 2015 Session
From education to job creation to transparency and accountability in government, the Texas House successfully addressed a number of key priorities in the legislative session that ended Monday, House Speaker Joe Straus said.
“I’m proud of the way we addressed core issues,” said Speaker Straus, R-San Antonio. “We improved education and addressed transportation. We cut taxes. And we made our budget more transparent and our government more accountable.”
The Legislature approved a balanced two-year state budget that grows less than 2 percent per year and allows for almost $4 billion in tax relief. The budget puts additional resources into public education and higher education.
Several important education reforms are also headed to Governor Greg Abbott for approval. For example, the House broadened the accountability system used to evaluate public schools, diminishing the role of standardized testing and taking other academic factors into account. The Legislature also approved a plan to more quickly and effectively reform schools that repeatedly fail to meet academic standards.
For the first time since 2006, legislators voted to fund new facilities at university campuses across the state. In addition, the Legislature created the Governor’s University Research Initiative, which will help public institutions of higher education recruit nationally recognized scholars.
Creation of the Governor’s University Research Initiative was part of the Legislature’s larger effort to reform the economic development funds administered by the Governor’s office. Legislators eliminated the beleaguered Emerging Technology Fund and approved new oversight of other economic development funds in order to protect against abuse of taxpayer dollars.
Oversight of taxpayer dollars, in fact, was a major theme throughout the session. As the session began, details emerged about problems with contracts issued by the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. The House provided significant new oversight of how agencies award and administer private-sector contracts.
Finally, the House achieved a number of victories in its efforts to make the budget more transparent. For decades, the state has collected fees for a stated purpose, but withheld the money from that purpose so that it could be counted to certify the rest of the budget. The House reduced that practice in 2013 and further reduced it this session. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars in fees were reduced, while additional resources flowed to transportation, hospital trauma care and state parks.
Speaker Straus heralded these results and praised his colleagues for working to achieve them in a respectful and collaborative way.
“The House was a place where we vetted ideas carefully, treated each other with respect and worked to find common ground,” Speaker Straus said. “Members have had the chance to address the issues that are most important to them and their constituents, and I think they can return home proud of what they have achieved.”