The numbers represent more than a date. It is the first day of the 82nd Legislature, Regular Session. Beginning tomorrow, lawmakers have 140 days in which to address historic budgetary challenges. With a budget deficit looming close to $30 billion and revenue generators off the negotiating table, draconian cuts to programs are expected to be the solution du jour.
Today may set the tone for the 82nd Texas Legislature. First, Comptroller Susan Combs released her revenue estimate and indicated that available revenue will be around $72.2 billion for the next biennium beginning September 1. The revenue estimate is the first step in the budgeting process and a base budget is expected to be released later this week or next. Using that revenue estimate, some analysts believe that the deficit will be around $26.8 billion since $99 billion is needed to fund services at current levels. The $99 billion figure is based on state agency requests. Additionally, over $4 billion may be needed to cover services for the current biennium. And second, the House Republican Caucus will meet today to discuss the speaker’s race, which has been very contentious. At issue is whether the new super-majority should elect the speaker of the house without input from the Democratic minority. Capitol insiders differ on the significance of the meeting since the real vote that counts will be cast tomorrow afternoon after lawmakers are sworn in.
In previous sessions, the first day has been ceremonial for both the Texas House and Texas Senate. However, in light of planned protests at the Texas Capitol by citizens groups, tomorrow’s vote on the speaker’s race may be protracted and delay the usual starting time for the jovial festivities that are common on opening day. If a speaker of the house is elected on the first day as required by the Texas Constitution, the Texas House will discuss adopting rules for the 82nd Legislature this week or early next.
The key issue facing the Texas Senate in the next coming days is whether to eliminate or modify the two-thirds tradition, which has allowed eleven senators to block legislation from being considered on the senate floor. Commonly known as the “two-thirds rule,” it has been very effective in killing contentious legislation. Some senators want to eliminate the rule completely. Others want to modify it. The debate over this issue should be lively in the days to come.
Every session has its own character. In the next few days, we’ll know what lies ahead between now and Sine Die.