LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - The 87th Texas Legislature convenes Tuesday with many topics on the forefront for East Texas lawmakers.
District 57 State Rep. Trent Ashby said the budget remains a top priority as the pandemic strains the state’s economy with an estimated $1 billion deficit for closing out the existing budget in 2021.
“When you look at the 5 percent state agency cuts that were put into place and that are currently being executed along with the CARES Act funding coming from the federal government, I think between those two measures you’ll largely see that deficit wiped away for the current biennium,” Ashby said.
District 3 State Senator Robert Nichols. a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said after settling the current budget, the focus shifts to how to overcome shortfalls for the next two-year budget for 2022 and 2023.
“If we can go into the next two-year budget with that already trimmed back, who knows, that may get us there,” Nichols said. “You also have the Rainy-Day Fund which has eight or nine billion dollars in it. We don’t like to use it just to balance the budget.”
District 9 State Rep. Chris Paddie said he and other lawmakers want to maintain commitments made in the last session like with public education.
“We did so much good work last session like House Bill 3 with teacher pay raises and putting more money into schools,” Paddie said. “I think there is an overall concern about that given the budget situation.”
District 11 State Rep. Travis Clardy says there will be discussions on criminal justice reform, redistricting, healthcare-related topics because of the pandemic, and rural broadband.
“We need to come up with our Texas plan, what’s that going to look like and how do we do this to provide more and better, quality healthcare to more people,” Clardy said. “Telemedicine is a big part of that, and again, that stands to reason that if we have good quality rural broadband, we can do that better and more efficiently.”
According to the state constitution, lawmakers cannot pass any bills for the first 60 days of the session unless declared emergency items by the governor. The first 60 days are devoted to introducing bills and resolutions then forming committees to hold hearings to consider those bills.