The 82nd Legislature officially convenes itself for the next 140 days to conduct the people’s business today. If the past 23 hours of political intrigue is any indication, the session will hold plenty of surprises and intrigue. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs delivered a revenue estimate that took even the stout of heart by surprise predicting as much as $26.8 billion deficit. A variety of pundits have weighed in over the day as the estimate undergoes additional analysis with some suggesting that the “real” number may be as low as $14 or 16 billion while others say Combs may be optimistic and the deficit may be even greater. It all really depends on just how much money the state wants to spend and “on what” that money is spent.
To add to the political drama, former Congressman Tom Delay had his day in court and earned himself 3 years with the feds; this time not in the House office building but another federally run facility. Of course, that opinion will be appealed and delayed (no pun intended) for as long as possible.
And before the day was over, Galveston County’s own Larry Taylor conducted the poll of the GOP caucus and as the sun set it appeared that Speaker Joe Straus had more than enough notes to easily be reelected to his position as Speaker of the House.
What a day!
Now the 82nd Legislature will get down to business. On the top of their agenda, of course, is finding a way to balance the state’s budget (which is constitutionally required). And, it is likely that initial discussions will include “no new taxes” and that the much talked about Rainy Day Fund will be left out of play for as long as possible (which the expectation of it being needed in the 83rd session). Expect a stark budget to emerge … perhaps a skeleton designed to maintain only the most basic requirements for operation of the state.
On the crowded agenda will also be congressional redistricting with Texas gaining four new seats in the US congress. Drawing all those new lines will take some time and result in a minimal amount of horse trading since the Texas House has 101 members — and absolute majority. Expect no controversy (if you live in a dream world).
Save room on the plate for a few more items of interest: funding for public education, funding for higher education, funding for health and human services, health care services such as SCHIP and Medicaid, criminal justice and its correctional health care programs, border security, immigration, voter ID, scope of practice in medicine …. to name just a few.
As the football bowl games wind down the real “play off” will be occurring in the Texas legislature as our elected officials make decisions that will determine the fate of our state over the next several decades. In health care education, we know that the stakes are high. Maintaining the absolute best quality of education is a task that requires constant and strategic investment; it does not happen by chance. Educating and retraining health care professionals to practice in Texas is also no trivial task. We must invest in increasing our state health professions school graduates, and we must also increase the investment in graduate medical education in Texas. All of that takes money.
Choices will be made. Let’s hope they are focused on the future.