State Senator Robert Duncan and House Representative Charles Perry held a town hall meeting this morning in Lubbock on the campus of Texas Tech University.
Senator Duncan opened the meeting by welcoming the hundreds of citizens and county, city and school officials from around the region. He began by giving an overall picture of the State Legislature as the 83rd Session is now underway. Duncan said that last session the legislature began with a 27 Billion Dollar defecit and this session he said according to figures from the State Comptroller they have more money than the State Constitution allows them to spend. He pointed out that Texas has a Constitutional Spending amendment which protects us from spending faster than the economy can handle. He continued by saying that last session there were deep cuts to education, both public education and higher education and cuts to many state agencies. This year the legislature will go through the budget line by line to thoroughly understand it and at the end of the session will leave approximately 12 Billion Dollars in the “Rainy Day” fund which also has spending caps as set by the state constitution. He hope that this year will give the state the opportunity to put money towards infrastructure improvements such as roads and water infrastructure to help smaller rural communities who are struggling to maintain an adequate water supply.
He pointed out that last year the state lost federal funding in public education but stated “We will put more money in the budget for education and that includes higher education.” a statement that drew a loud round of applause from the crowd.
Both Perry and Duncan felt that this session will bring changes to the public education system, especially to standardized testing. It was noted that there is already discussion to change the number of end of course exams required to graduate and both stated that they do not feel a school voucher bill would be able to pass this session–both also stated they do not think a voucher program would work in this region.
Representative Perry echoed many of the comments of Senator Duncan. He did point out that the house sub committee he sits on has spent considerable time recently analyzing budget requests, he stated up front that they have decided to pass on any request for salary increases or additional personnel until they can look at all personnel and salary type requests all in one item in the budget not by department.
The pair took several questions from the audience.
Q–Do you see a change in how certain crimes are classed coming out of this session.
A–We are always looking at the criminal justice system and Perry said we will likely focus on prevention and the re-entry of criminals to society after they have served time in the prison system.
Q–Some people in cities are advocating for a new state sales tax for infastructure improvements. What are your feelings.
A–Senator Duncan said if anything, Austin will try to figure out a way to give some tax relief but he definately did not see enough votes to pass a new sales tax. He did point out however, that cities must take care of infastructure and the state as a whole must figure out a way to create jobs in this region and maintain those jobs in this region. Perry added that we “can’t react to a short term need and create a long term consequence.”
There was also discussion concerning the federal government pushing for states to expand their medicaid program as part of the affordable care act and to create insurance exchanges. The federal goverment has said they will create the exchanges if the state governments choose not to. Both lawmakers said they are in support of the state government holding firm and not creating the exchanges or expanding the medicaid program. They both feel that the guidelines put in place by the federal government to have it done will be extended because they say the federal government does not have the resources to do it themselves.
Representative John Frullo was scheduled to attend the meeting, however he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.