AUSTIN – Texans have it pretty good compared to people who live in other states, to summarize Gov. Rick Perry's 44-minute State of the State speech, delivered Feb. 8 to a joint session of the state House and Senate. And although the steady march of people leaving their home states to settle in Texas is evidence of the state’s overall health, things could be better, he admitted in so many words.
“Have the doomsayers forgotten that Texas added more jobs in 2010 than any other state? Last year, the growth rate of Texas jobs was nearly double that of any other top 10 state,” Perry told the assembly of lawmakers and the heads of state agencies and courts.
Without directly mentioning the ($27 billion) dollar amount of the projected revenue shortfall for the 2012-2013 biennium, Perry called for lawmakers to write a balanced state budget without raising taxes, without placing new unfunded mandates of local government and without touching the state’s ($9.5 billion) rainy day fund.
One of the more-noticed passages in the governor’s address was his challenge to colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable. He suggested the development of four-year degree programs that would cost $10,000 or less, including textbooks.
To cut spending, Perry suggested curtailing the functions of certain “non-critical agencies” and making other agencies take on more. He also called for lawsuit reform to “improve the legal climate in our state, and impart even more energy, stability and security to our economy.” And he mentioned his desire to push back on a Washington, D.C. that “encroaches upon the rights of states” but called for the federal government to assign 1,000 soldiers to Texas to beef up border security.
Perry asked the Legislature to continue to set aside part of the budget for his Texas Enterprise Fund, a discretionary fund his office has used since 2003 to attract and keep new businesses such as manufacturers and technological innovators. The fund, he said, has helped bring tens of thousands of jobs to Texas and “nearly $15 billion in capital investment.”
After the speech, lawmakers returned to their duties, the most pressing of which is to gather input from constituents before crafting the state budget. And, so, with Texas’ rapidly growing population and less revenue on the horizon, the passage of a balanced budget promises tough votes on funding for all areas and possibly some historically considered uncuttable: pre-kindergarten, elementary, secondary and higher education, and health and human services.
Bill targets sexual texting
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on Feb. 7 jointly announced the filing of “sexting” prevention legislation. Under Watson’s Senate Bill 507, state law would classify the offense of sexting as a Class C misdemeanor for first-time violators less than 18 years old and courts would be authorized to sentence minors convicted of sexting – and one of the minor’s parents – to participate in an education program about sexting’s long-term harmful consequences. Watson’s bill also would allow violators to apply to the court to have the offense expunged from their records.
DPS warns about telemarketers
The Department of Public Safety on Feb. 7 warned the public to be wary of solicitations by telemarketers who claim to be raising money for the DPS. DPS Director Steve McCraw advised citizens not to give money to these groups as the funds are not likely to go to the causes that are claimed. Some groups include in their names the terms, “Texas Rangers,” State Troopers,” “Texas Highway Patrol,” or “Department of Public Safety.” While some current or former officers may be members of some of these associations on their own time, these organizations are not affiliated with the DPS nor do they represent the department, the DPS said. If misrepresentation is suspected, citizens may contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-621-0508.
Speaker assigns committees
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Feb. 9 announced his committee chairmanships and rosters for the current session of the Legislature.
A few of the key chairs he designated were: Appropriations, Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Calendar, Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi; Public Education, Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Redistricting, Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; State Affairs, Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; and Ways and Means, Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville. Straus also named Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, speaker pro tempore; and former Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as dean of the House.
Comptroller: Obesity costs Texas
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Feb. 4 released a report, “Gaining Costs: Losing Time: The Obesity Crisis in Texas.”
The report says obesity cost Texas businesses $9.5 billion in 2009 Obesity could cost Texas businesses $32.5 billion annually by 2030, if current trends in obesity and health care costs continue.