When spending on education, health care, and pensions consume upwards of three quarters of the $217 billion biennium budget for the entire State of Texas, it doesn’t leave much flexibility for state legislators to maneuver through the thousands of bills that pass through the legislature every session.
Texas State Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Greg Bonnen, M.D., and Dennis Paul visited with members of the Small Business Committee of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership early on Wednesday morning, Sept. 20, 2017. They spoke of the successes and challenges of the 85th Legislative Session.
Sen. Taylor serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Education. He stated that the committee works on policy for over five million Texas students. Sen. Taylor said that we’re in the 21st century and can’t keep teaching like we’re in the 20th century particularly in regard to the use of technology.
He spoke of the P-TECH program, which was passed by the legislature. It allows students, who have simultaneously earned an associate’s degree in process technology, to graduate from high school and go directly into the workforce.
Sen. Taylor also reported that funding will be provided to allow every campus in Texas to have broadband access. Approximately 18 percent of campuses are currently without such access. This access is invaluable as a means to administer testing for performance measurements as well as keeping track of a very mobile student population.
The senator then spoke of the May 2016 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the state’s public school funding system. Although highly controversial, Sen. Taylor explained that the ruling gives legislators the opportunity to rebuild the immensely complex funding system from the ground up.
In regard to school funding, Rep. Paul expressed that the burden of school funding ought to be taken off property taxes and transferred to sales taxes to provide relief to property owners. He said that he will be working on that during the next legislative session.
He reported that although higher education took some cuts during the session, community colleges fared better than they did in the 84th Legislature.
Rep. Paul noted that not much relief was provided for business taxes, which was one of BAHEP’s priorities for the session, due to the tight budget.
Rep. Paul sits on the Pensions Committee. He said that they worked a tremendous number of hours on the City of Houston’s pension problem of $8.5 billion in unfunded debt and feels that they came up with a good solution going forward.
Rep. Bonnen was excited to report that Sen. Taylor and he were able to get a bill passed that allows League City and Kemah to build hotel/convention centers and keep the sales tax revenue generated on site for the purpose of retiring bonds and building infrastructure around those facilities.
Rep. Bonnen serves on the House Appropriations and Energy Resources committees and spoke of the uncertainty facing the budgeting process due to the changes facing the public school funding system as well as what will happen at the federal level with the Affordable Care Act.
He said that there is a problem with combined federal/state programs such as Medicaid. Dr. Bonnen explained that people don’t realize that a huge part of the expense of Texas’ Medicaid program is long-term care for the elderly, which, of course, is very important. He added that price inflation across the board, as well as the problems created by large health care systems, have to be addressed.
The 85th Texas Legislative Session may be ended, but the region’s dedicated legislators work 24/7/365.