Legislative Update: COVID-19 at the Capitol, and lawmakers release preliminary state budgets

The Capitol dome.

Last week the Texas Legislature officially gavelled in, marking the beginning of the 87th session. The House established rules for the session regarding COVID-19 protocols including the mandatory usage of masks on the floor and limits on virtual testimony from the public. Once the Legislature reconvenes, committee assignments will be finalized and committees will begin to hear bills. Texas House leadership expects to convene Tuesday and Wednesday, then leave until the next Tuesday, Feb 2.

On Thursday, lawmakers released House and Senate versions of a preliminary state budget, and unlike previous years, the figures were in complete agreement—spending $119.7 billion in general revenue for the next two fiscal years. That figure is $7 billion more than the revenue available to spend. It’s also 4% higher than the current budget, but 3% lower if you factor in the costs of inflation and population growth.

The Legislature also has to deal with a roughly $1 billion deficit in the current budget. Despite there being a general consensus between the House and Senate budget writers on what amount to spend, fitting together the pieces of additional money needed for the current and next budget still may take some wrangling between the two bodies. Uncertain are the possible additional waves of federal aid to states, along with how much lawmakers will agree to spend from the Rainy Day Fund, which has amassed $10 billion. How does our investment in public education fare with this news? It’s still too early to tell, although many lawmakers are continuing to signal support for maintaining funding levels.