In seven short months we will have worked our way through an election and have seated and convened the 2011 Texas legislature. That January 2011 session will begin to deal with many issues affecting Texas for decades to come:
Redistricting: The 2010 National Census presents an opportunity to redraw state and congressional electoral districts to reflect population changes. It could present Democrats an opportunity to undo the Tom Delay "gerrymandering" or the Republicans the chance to continue and entrench the process. And, it is likely that Texas will pick up one or more House seats. It will, without any doubt, be the most rancorous issue facing the new legislature and will very likely spawn its own set of legal challenges and lawsuits regardless which party is in control of the process. You can expect this to be one of the, if not the most, dominant issue before this legislature.
State Budget Shortfall & New Taxes: The 2011 legislature will be presented with a budget shortfall now estimated to be in the range of $18 billion. Putting aside all else, common sense (I know, I know) dictates that there are only a few options available; amend the state constitution to permit a continued budget deficit, reduce spending through budget and service cuts, austerity programs, accounting tricks and devices, tap the so-called "Rainy Day Fund", find new sources of state revenue i.e. casino gambling, or raise taxes. Even if we were to see some or all of these measures except "raise taxes", there still would be a shortfall.
One area with a big "bull's-eye" are the goods and services that currently benefit from $30 billion in tax exemptions, exclusions and credits. The way politicians think is that eliminating such is not the same as creating new taxes..."We balanced the budget without creating new taxes!"
Sunset Review/Environmental Issues: Twenty-eight state agencies are to come under "sunset reviews" this coming session. The process will determine which agencies will continue and how and if they should be "reformed". Businesses and and established interests will be ready to fight any attempts to increase or impose new regulations. If the Democrats are in control they will target many of those agencies, which under Republican control, have all but given businesses and special interest veritable wave throughs in the regulatory and review processes.
In addition to the big, well-known agencies like the Department of Insurance and the Department of Transportation, energy and environmental agencies such as The Public Utilities Commission, Commission on Environmental Quality, Water Development Board, and the Soil and Water Conservation Board will be closely scrutinized.
It is very important for us to note that this review process will take place as Texas is receiving more and more pressure to effect stronger regulations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and non-government environmental groups.
Voter ID/Immigration: We do not expect these hot-button, emotion laden issues to even come forth in a serious manner this session. Frankly, this legislature is going to be so busy with the issues itemized above that there will no doubt be one, or even several, special sessions next summer. There will be some posturing and blustering, but no significant action.
Health Care Reform: Most of the noise on this will simply be Republicans and Democrats getting "on the record" for the folks back home. However, look to decisions on how Texas is to implement new federal requirements to generate a lot of spleen as the legislature confronts whether to join the federal high-risk pool, and at what level to set Medicaid reimbursements.
As always with the Texas Legislature, we can expect several to make utter jackasses of themselves, and at least a number of invitations to the "parking lot" to settle differences. All that side, this is coming up to be as important a session as there ever has been.. Stay tuned, we will!