Should the Texas Legislature accomplish only one thing during the 85th legislative session, which started Jan. 10, the body of elected officials is required to pass a balanced budget for the 2018-19 fiscal biennium.
Per the Texas Constitution, expenditures must not exceed revenue.
In July, Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked state agencies to reduce their budget requests by 4 percent, forecasting what could be a revenue shortfall.
Sherri Greenberg, fellow of the Max Sherman Chair in State and Local Government at The University of Texas, said this request was an indicator of how the 2017 session will play out.
“This is going to be a session, not for addition, but for subtraction and cutting,” Greenberg said.
She noted this would be particularly important with an increasingly out-of-touch relationship between members of the state Senate and the Texas House of Representatives.
Patrick presides over the Senate as the state-elected lieutenant governor, and Straus presides over the House in an office elected by fellow
Straus described how this difference affects the way the legislative agenda is formulated in each chamber during an event held by the Texas Tribune in November.
“I don’t think it is appropriate, certainly admissible, for a speaker to have a hard-driving, lengthy agenda of specifics,” Straus said. “That’s not the way the House works. … I think the House members would string me up if I said, ‘Here’s your bill; pass it.’”
Straus referenced Patrick’s top 30 legislative priorities, which are listed as Senate bills 1 through 30 and include school choice, sanctuary cities, transgender bathroom regulations and abortion.
Greenberg said some of these issues would likely be the root of clashes between the chambers.
“The lieutenant governor has said a lot about the bathroom bill, and speaker Straus said he does not feel it is an urgent matter,” she said.
Alternatively, Straus does not have a similar list of priorities. In November, he listed general topics he cares about, which include public education, higher education, infrastructure, Child Protective Services, foster care and mental health care.
Greenberg also noted the difference between the House and the Senate regarding school choice. She said the large number of rural state representatives affects the overall state House sentiment on school choice. Many legislative districts do not have alternatives to public school, so vouchers are unpopular among representatives in those areas, she said.
“If there isn’t an alternative, [House members] don’t want money being taken away from their public schools,” Greenberg said.