AUSTIN — Tough questions over how the Legislature will address a $4.3 billion state revenue shortfall in fiscal year 2011 and a $27 billion projected revenue shortfall in Texas’ 2012-2013 budget cycle continued last week.
On March 3, Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chair of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, invited Comptroller Susan Combs to come forward and present “a clear description of how we arrived at this point, what our current challenges are and how we should address them.”
Combs, part of whose job is to ascertain whether the state has enough funds to pay for expenditures proposed by the Legislature, accepted on short notice. She testified that the Legislature, in facing the current deficit, has three options: deeper budget cuts, delaying spending, and tapping other resources such as the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day Fund, or some combination of those options.
But, she said, “I cannot certify new appropriations until the deficit is addressed.” So, it could be inferred, that until the budget crisis is solved or abated, the survival of any legislation that would add to current state fiscal obligations is in doubt.
Now, before Combs testified, Pitts said he filed legislation that proposes to transfer $4.3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund into the General Revenue Fund. But even so, he said, deeper cuts to already-cut budgets will have to be considered.
Pitts pointed out that many fellow lawmakers on the present Appropriations committee also served on the committee in 2009 when the 2010-2011 budget was drawn up. “In hindsight, it’s worth asking if we all should have anticipated a decline much sooner,” Pitts said.
For the record, Pitts said, Texas’ budget troubles stem from a nationwide economic recession and a long series of monthly double-digit declines in sales tax revenue.
However, Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, interjected that the state’s $27 billion projected revenue shortfall for 2012-2013 is attributable not only to a nationwide recession, but also to the state’s $11 billion “structural deficit.”
The structural deficit is a systemic shortfall grown out of the state’s 2006 school finance reform plan that cut property taxes by billions of dollars. That, coupled with years of less-than-expected revenue from a business-margins tax the Legislature passed to pay for the property tax cut, has widened and deepened the budget hole.
House passes sonogram bill
HB 15 by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, was adopted by the House on March 3.
Among the legislation’s many requirements is that a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy must choose whether to view a sonogram and hear the heartbeat of the fetus before a sedative or anesthesia is administered and before the termination may continue.
According to the official bill analysis, the sonogram must be performed 72 to 24 hours before termination, except in cases where the woman’s life is endangered. The physician must describe the results in easy-to-understand language.
The legislation also requires the physician to provide a list of agencies offering ultrasounds at no cost to the pregnant woman.
House floor votes taken on proposed amendments to the bill closely followed party lines. The final vote on the bill was 103-46.
One Republican voted in opposition on the final vote. Freshman state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston published a news release explaining, “To me, the issue at stake was not about abortion, but about the role of government in our personal lives. … Although I fully support informed consent, I do not support the Legislature practicing medicine. Conservative legislators have been united against the expanding role of government, and I remain true to that principle.”
The state Senate passed a similar sonogram bill, SB 16, in mid-February.
Current, former lawmakers eye RRC
In January, when Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams announced his resignation to run for the U.S. Senate, the door opened for a replacement. Williams announced his bid for the Senate when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she would not seek another term in office.
Current state Rep. Warren Chisum. R-Pampa, filed as an applicant to fill Williams’ unexpired term, and so did former state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Brimer also is seeking appointment as state insurance commissioner to replace Mike Geeslin who has asked to not be reappointed.