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Newsletter: A Commitment to Fiscal Discipline

During the first week of our new legislative session, the House unveiled our initial budget proposal for the next two years. This plan is the starting point from which my colleagues and I will address a range of issues between now and the end of our legislative session on June 1st.

The state budget is more than just a collection of numbers on a piece of paper (or, to be more precise, a thousand pieces of paper). It reflects our principles and our priorities, and this first proposal provides a strong foundation for our work going forward.

The issues addressed in our initial plan include:

Fiscal Discipline. The House proposal would keep total spending flat over the next two years, increasing total appropriations by just 0.2 percent. By doing so, it will allow the Members of the House to have a robust discussion about what, if anything, to do with the billions of dollars that this initial plan does not spend. Options on the table include tax relief, paying down debt and committing new resources to education and transportation. Through a process called Strategic Fiscal Review, the House worked for many months last year to make state agencies more efficient and accountable, and this plan reflects that very important work.

Public Education. The overall enrollment of Texas public schools grows by about 85,000 students per year. The House budget covers the cost of that growth. Because education is a top priority for the House, the plan also allots additional resources for public schools. Legislators will decide in the months ahead how exactly to allocate those resources.

Higher Education. Our colleges and universities play a critical role in the lives of young people and in the health of our economy. In order to give more students access to a college education, the House budget invests in additional TEXAS Grants, the state’s signature financial aid program. It also devotes new resources toward strengthening our emerging universities, such as UT-San Antonio.

Transportation. For decades, the state has taken some of the money that drivers pay in gas taxes and diverted it away from transportation and toward other programs. The House plan ends that practice. By doing so, we devote an additional $1 billion to building and maintaining roads without increasing taxes, tolls or fees. More work remains to address our mobility challenges, but this is an important and overdue step.

Border Security. In December, legislative leaders extended and expanded Department of Public Safety operations along the Texas-Mexico border. The House budget proposal continues those expanded operations for another two years. By doing so, we also continue the historic investment in border security that the Legislature has made over the last six years.

Accountability. Finally, the plan includes some important reforms that will increase accountability and transparency for taxpayers. It provides additional oversight of state agencies as they award millions of dollars in contracts. It also calls for reforms to our state’s economic incentive programs, so that taxpayers will know that dollars used to attract job-creators to Texas are spent in an appropriate and effective way.

The work of writing the state budget will last throughout our legislative session. And as that work continues, I want to hear about your priorities and concerns. Please feel free to contact me at joe@joestraus.org about any issue that the Legislature will or should consider in the months ahead. I look forward to hearing from you, and I remain grateful for this opportunity to help lead our state.