CAPITOL HIGHLIGHTS

House, Senate must work toward agreement on state budget

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AUSTIN — After more than 15 hours of floor debate, the Texas House of Representatives on April 7 approved a balanced, $218 billion, state budget for fiscal years 2018-2019.

During the debate, state representatives proposed some 378 amendments to the House version of Senate Bill 1, although many were tabled or withdrawn.

The House version of the proposed budget must now undergo the scrutiny of the Senate, which passed its own $218 billion version on March 28. Members of the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to reconcile differences in the two versions and finalize a budget that then can be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for approval.

The House version, which cuts overall state spending by more than $1 billion compared to the current 2016-2017 budget, provides an additional $1.5 billion for public schools, $500 million to address a shortfall in the health care program for retired teachers and an increase of more than $450 million to address crises in Child Protective Services and foster care. It also puts more resources toward mental health services and Texas Grant scholarships, and it protects voter-approved funding for transportation improvements, House Speaker Joe Straus explained.

Straus expressed appreciation for the work of House Appropriations Committee Chair John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and fellow committee members, and to House members, who voted 131-16 in favor of the budget. “This plan keeps Texas living within its means while making investments that will strengthen our economy and brighten our future,” Straus said.

Also, Straus pointed out, on April 7, the House approved House Bill 2, legislation to provide funding to close a Medicaid shortfall and to fulfill other supplementary needs, such as family and protective services, to finish the current fiscal biennium. 

As in previous years, health and human services uses about 40 percent of the state’s general revenue, while education uses 33 percent and transportation, about 10 percent. Also, currently, the federal government funds about one third of the state budget.

 Revenue intake increases

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 4 announced that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.24 billion in March, an amount 3 percent greater than in March 2016.

“Overall net growth in sales tax revenue represents mixed performances by major industry sectors,” Hegar said, in an agency news release. “Collections from the manufacturing, wholesale trade and information sectors increased, while receipts from construction, retail trade and restaurants declined from last year’s levels.”

Also, according to the comptroller’s office, total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in March 2017 was up by 2.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago.  Sales tax revenue is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 58 percent of all tax collections in fiscal 2016. Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes, motor fuel taxes and oil and natural gas production taxes are also large revenue sources for the state.

Zika virus risk increases

As temperatures continue to climb, mosquito activity will increase, so people statewide should protect themselves from mosquitoes at home and while traveling to areas where Zika is spreading, the Texas Department of State Health Services recommended last week.

On April 3, the agency issued an alert calling for the testing of all pregnant residents of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties in both the first and second trimesters of pregnancy and any resident who has a rash plus at least one other common Zika symptom: fever, joint pain or eye redness.

For the rest of the state, DSHS recommends testing for anyone who has at least three of those four Zika symptoms and all pregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika transmission, including any travel to any part of Mexico.

Precautions and travel advice are available at TexasZika.org.

Abbott hails Boeing move

Gov. Greg Abbott on April 5 welcomed Boeing’s new Global Services unit to Texas, following Boeing’s announcement that the unit’s headquarters would be located in Plano’s Legacy West business development.

Projected to be operational in July, the unit will house leadership and support staff and will serve as the central hub for 20,000 employees around the world. 

In November 2016, Boeing announced the debut of Global Services, a unit to integrate its defense, space and commercial sectors’ service capabilities “into a single, customer-focused business, providing agile, cost-competitive services to commercial and defense customers worldwide.” 

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