Coming into the 83rd legislative session, Texas had some tough issues to tackle — water, roads and education were in need of investment for the long-term health of our state. While we are not finished with our work, I believe the Legislature has addressed these issues with intelligence and determination.
To understand where we are today, you have to go back 10 years. In 2003, the economy had fallen flat after Sept. 11 and the dot-com bust. Texas was facing a major budget shortfall. Instead of raising taxes like other states, the Legislature made the tough choices needed to balance the budget.
In 2006, in response to a Texas Supreme Court decision involving school funding, the Legislature reduced property tax rates by one-third and restructured our franchise tax system to more equitably fund our schools. In 2007, the economy had recovered significantly, but the Legislature remained cautious in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In 2009, a global recession held our nation in its grip and federal stimulus dollars only delayed and exacerbated the inevitable. In 2011, Texas was facing a $27 billion shortfall and we all remember the tough choices that had to be made. When the 2013 legislative session began, Texas was leading the nation out of recession due to a vital and robust energy industry, low taxes and sensible regulation.
With the last 10 years in mind, the Legislature invested in the future of Texas in 2013. We set aside $2 billion from our “rainy day fund” to invest in our state’s water infrastructure. We increased formula funding to public schools by $3.2 billion on top of additional funds to cover enrollment growth. We also increased higher education funding by 3 percent to help keep tuition affordable. We addressed other long-overdue funding shortfalls in mental health services and state supported living centers.
The 2014-15 budget also significantly increases transparency by reducing our reliance on dedicated funds to balance the budget by $1.5 billion, and ending $400 million in diversions from our state highway fund. The budget preserves a healthy rainy day fund balance and leaves $650 million in general revenue unspent while reducing taxes by more than $1 billion.
Public education was a priority this session and we did more than simply increase funding. We heard from many parents, students and teachers about the burden that testing has placed upon them. In response, the Legislature passed — and the governor has signed — House Bill 5. This bill provides students and teachers more flexibility while reducing the number of end-of-course exams.
High-performing charter public schools provide a wonderful opportunity for students and parents. Low-performing charter public schools are a waste of students’ time and taxpayer dollars. I filed House Bill 3319 to reform the Texas charter public school system. HB 3319 will close low-performing charter public schools while allowing for reasonable and responsible growth in high-performing charter public schools. That legislation was incorporated into Senate Bill 2 and has been signed by the governor.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee and as vice chairwoman of the Energy Resources Committee, I worked hard to secure adequate funding for the agency that oversees oil and gas production in Texas. With the incredible boom we are experiencing in oil and gas, it does not make any sense to ask the agency charged with licensing, permitting and regulating the most important industry in Texas to continue to work without the resources it needs to do the job.
House Bill 740 expands on my earlier work to ensure that Texas newborns are appropriately screened for genetic disorders. Critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) kills hundreds of newborns every year. Recent medical studies have demonstrated that a simple, low-cost, non-invasive pulse-oximetry screening at birth will save many of these babies. HB 740 will ensure that all newborn Texans are screened for CCHD, and I am proud that Gov. Rick Perry recently signed the bill into law.
Finally, I have always found satisfaction in tackling problems that create inefficiencies in government. Last session, I worked hard to add a provision in the budget that significantly reduced the amount of redundant and burdensome reports that were required of our universities. This session, I worked with the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education to insert a similar provision that will substantially reduce the unnecessary paperwork required of our special education teachers. I also passed House Bill 878 this session that will allow the Railroad Commission to collect data electronically for oil and gas well logs. This small change will eliminate an inefficient paper system that was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Texas is a growing state. Our population has added more than 1,000 people a day for the last 10 years and our economy is the envy of the nation. Responsible leadership and a commitment to invest wisely in our future continue to make Texas a great place to live and work.
REP. MYRA CROWNOVER has represented District 64 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2000.