Capital Highlights: Task force to give input on unfunded mandates
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AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry on Feb. 25 announced the formation of the Task Force on Unfunded Mandates, a bipartisan panel of one former and eight current Texas public officials.
The panel’s mission, Perry said, is to list “burdensome unfunded mandates that have been passed down from the state to local governments, such as cities, counties and school districts.”
Perry wants the list, and recommendations “on how to best alleviate these burdens on local entities,” on his desk this March.
Meanwhile, the state Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees continued with their work of exploring ways to cut the 2012-2013 state budget enough to make it balance. That means stripping off somewhere between $8 billion and $27 billion in state services.
To address state finances in the long term, the Texas Senate adopted a proposed state constitutional amendment on Feb. 23, the subtext of which indicates a sentiment that some portion of the Lone Star State’s budget woes originate in Washington, D.C.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 urges Congress to propose and submit to the states for ratification a federal balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Authored by Senate Pro-Tempore Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chair of the upper chamber’s powerful Finance Committee, SJR 1 has moved to the House for consideration.
Its adoption by the Senate drew applause from Gov. Perry, who said he now looks forward to “working with members of the Texas House who share the goal of a federal balanced budget amendment to put the U.S. back on the path to fiscal responsibility.”
One such federal program that is often named in conjunction with “out-of-control federal spending” is Medicaid, the health coverage program for poorer Americans that more than 4 million Texans rely upon.
Speaker weighs in on Medicaid
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Feb. 22, said, “Medicaid is an unsustainable federal program that continues to eat up more of our state budget, crowding out other priorities. State spending on Medicaid has doubled in the last 10 years and current spending now accounts for 18.7 percent of the general revenue-related 2010-2011 Texas budget.”
“Like most states, Texas is faced with the challenge of maintaining this critical safety net with limited taxpayer dollars,” Straus said.
Chief justice addresses joint session
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson on Feb. 24 addressed a joint session of the Texas House and Senate, including members of the state judiciary. Jefferson, now in his seventh year as chief justice, asked the assembly for four things in the course of his address:
1. Increased access to legal services for poorer and even middle class Texans. “The combination of increased poverty rates, reduced interest rates on legal aid accounts, and a statewide budget crisis threatens to leave Texas’ neediest communities without basic access to justice,” he said.
2. $20 million dollars from general revenue for basic civil legal services.
3. Non-partisan election of judges in Texas, and if that can’t be done, eliminate straight-ticket voting. “I urge the Legislature to send the people a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to be selected on their merit.”
4. To extend terms for state judges from four years to six for district court judges and from six years to eight for appellate court judges.
Texas’ 175th anniversary arrives
On Feb. 24, at the invitation of Speaker Straus, House Speaker Pro Tempore Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, on the floor of the Texas House, read the famous letter written by Col. William Barrett Travis with the Alamo under siege on Feb. 24, 1836.
And, further in observance of the 175th anniversary (terquasquicentennial) of the Republic of Texas’ independence from Mexico, the originals of the Travis letter and the Republic of Texas' Declaration of Independence from Mexico, signed March 2, 1836, are on public display at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Library and Archives Building, just east of the state Capitol.
Laredo rep. files popular vote bill
State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, has filed HB 1498, legislation to make every vote count in presidential elections.
Raymond said his bill “would help change presidential elections to assure that the winner of the national popular vote would be elected president.”
Texas would enter into an agreement with other states to assign all of its presidential electors to the candidate who wins the national popular vote in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, if Raymond’s bill is enacted.