January 14, 2011
The 82nd Legislature convened Jan. 11, with the tasks of reconciling a budget gap estimated at $4.3 billion for the remainder of 2011 and making legislative districts reflect the 21 percent population increase detailed in 2010 census data released in December.
In addition to balancing the budget and redistricting, members of the Williamson County and Travis County delegations have a number of legislative priorities in mind.
State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the state budget is his No. 1 priority this session, and school finance and border security round out his top three.
The budget is also of primary concern for state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who said he is also focusing on higher education and clean energy issues.
“I will push for budget reforms that will allow the state to balance its budget honestly and sustainably, ” said Watson, who said that debt, diversions and a lack of transparency were partly to blame for the budget crisis.
Barring a special session in June, the Legislature will adjourn May 30. Competition will likely be considerable to get secondary legislative issues on the agenda, let alone Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.
Another matter looming over the session’s start was the resolution of the election dispute between Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and her Republican challenger, Dan Neil. By citing voting irregularities and petitioning the House to decide whether Howard was, in fact, the winner of a race that came down to a recount and 12 votes, Neil set in motion a process that requires the speaker of the House to establish a committee and special master, who directs the process, to determine the outcome.
The final decision in the Howard-Neil dispute could affect the number of Republicans in the House, but the GOP headed into the session with a 101-49 majority. That super majority minimizes the leverage that House Democrats wield but may give room for standoffs between conservatives and more moderate members of the GOP. Such intraparty jostling began to surface before the session’s start with conservatives challenging Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, for his position at the helm of the House.