The voters of Texas spoke loudly in November of 2011. Angry at the expanding federal government, voters in an already conservative state placed more Republican candidates into office creating a strong majority in the Senate and a super-majority in the House whereby a single Democrat need not show up for a majority vote.
The voters also reelected Govenor Rick Perry for an unprecedented third term. The nation and the state’s longest serving governor was reelected on the slogan that “Texas was open for business” and he aimed to protect those businesses in the upcoming session.
And he certainly got down to business by stressing issues like creating a voter ID bill and requiring sonograms for women considering abortion. Meanwhile, the session opened with an unprecedented state budget shortfall of $27 billion.
With the Tea Party now in control of an already overwhelmingly conservative state, the political push from the elected was to “do what we were sent here to do”—cut spending without raising taxes. As such, the $27 billion budget shortfall would be closed through cutting major programs across the board.
However, the legislature learned that cutting was not enough to close the hole in the budget. As politicians examined state-funded programs, they realized that more revenue was going to be necessary to balance the two-year budget which is required by the state constitution. So, as the House began to slash programs such as education, the forestry service, and health care, the Senate began to do the same but also sought additional revenues through the sale of state property and additional tax rolls.
Despite their efforts, it became increasingly clear to both chambers that the budget could not be balanced without using the state’s savings account known as the Rainy Day Fund. Part of the fund, which is driven by oil and gas revenues, would need to be used. As cuts were being considered on both sides of the Capitol, use of more money from the fund was being suggested to close gaps in programs that were facing major cuts, including education.
As the budget debate loomed, more debates began related to the proposed $4 billion cut that was being considered for public education. The legislature began to examine the complicated funding structure for schools in the state and realized that the current tax structure, put in place in 2005, was not sustainable in the long run. However, despite this realization, and despite protests from educators during the week of spring break in Texas, both chambers considered other measures for funding education that did not include fixing the structural tax deficit that caused the state shortfall to begin with.
In Part 2: Education mandates, misunderstood funding formulas, and the closing of the chambers…