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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Speaker Wants Highway Fund for Transportation Only
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 • Posted May 23, 2014

AUSTIN — House Speaker Joe Straus on May 14 said the Texas House of Representatives would propose a budget next year that uses all of the money in the state highway fund for transportation instead of sending chunks of it to other state agencies.

Taxes and fees such as the gas tax and fees on drivers’ licenses go into the state highway fund to pay for transportation, but for almost 80 years, Straus explained, some of that money has helped fund agencies that are not directly related to transportation.

Using the state highway fund exclusively for transportation would increase funding for roads by about $1.3 billion over two years, Straus, R-San Antonio, added.

“This approach will make the state budget even more straightforward, just as taxpayers expect. It will also provide needed transportation revenue — without a tax increase — as Texas continues to grow twice as fast as the rest of the country,” Straus said.

State adds jobs in April

Texas Workforce Commission on May 16 reported Texas employers added 64,100 jobs in April for a total of 348,000 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs added over the year.

And, Texas’ unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in April, down from 5.5 percent in March and down from 6.4 percent a year ago.

“April was a robust month for Texas job growth. The unemployment rate continues to fall and we posted the highest monthly job growth in well over three years,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Andres Alcantar.

In April, employment in professional and business services grew by 20,100 positions, the largest monthly increase ever recorded for that industry, and eight of the 11 major industries in Texas experienced positive growth, the agency reported.

Panel votes to impeach

The Texas House Select Committee on Transparency on May 12 met in closed session and voted 7-1 to impeach University of Texas Board of Regents member Wallace L. Hall Jr. of Dallas.

A report cited during the committee's open session alleges Hall, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011, “abused the powers of his office and may have broken the law in his campaign to force the UT Regents to vote to fire UT President Bill Powers.” May 21 and May 22 meetings are scheduled for the committee to further consider and possibly take action on the issue.

Children are focus of work

Speaker Straus on May 15 announced nine appointees to the House Select Committee on Child Protection, a panel charged with studying abuse and neglect fatalities in Texas and making recommendations to protect children.

The panel will work with public members of the Protect our Kids Commission created by the Legislature in 2013 to study the rate of child abuse and neglect fatalities and to recommend strategies to prevent and reduce them. “I am confident that this committee will provide meaningful recommendations to improve outcomes for Texas children,” Straus said.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, will chair the panel. Members include Reps. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Jessica Farrar, D-Houston; James Frank, R-Wichita Falls; John Frullo, R-Lubbock; Bobby Guerra, D-Mission; Toni Rose, D-Dallas; and J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville.

Early voting period begins

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on May 15 published a reminder to voters that early voting for the May 27 Primary Runoff Election begins on May 19 and runs through May 23.

“Statewide there are a number of contests in both the Republican and Democratic primary runoff elections. This election is a chance for voters to select party candidates for the November 4 Election,” Berry said.

The runoff election is for races from the March 4 Primary Election where no candidates secured a majority. The top two finishers from those races will now face each other to represent their party in the November election, Berry said.

Sales tax holiday is set

State Comptroller Susan Combs on May 12 announced the May 24 through May 26 sales tax holiday for certain energy efficient household appliances. The annual state sales tax holiday applies to “Energy Star” qualified air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less, refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and clothes washers. Clothes dryers do not qualify. “Shoppers can save money up front by not having to pay sales tax when buying appliances during the holiday weekend and the energy efficient products can help reduce utility bill costs,” Combs said.

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