AUSTIN, Texas - The 84th legislative session begins Tuesday at the Texas Capitol. Monday morning state lawmakers got some good news and bad news about the coming budget process. The session will gavel in with a $7 billion surplus, but a downturn in the oil patch could limit any big dollar windfall.
Support staff at the state capitol rolled out chairs into the House Chamber for the crowd expected for the opening of the Session on Tuesday. New names were also being added to the list of those who will spend 140 days under the capitol dome. Despite the overcast skies, the coming budget debates may not be as gloomy as in years past. The cloudy conditions also couldn't damper the upbeat mood from newly elected state Comptroller Glenn Hegar Monday morning.
"We estimate the available General Revenue related Funds will be $113 billion," said Hegar.
His multibillion prediction did come with a warning. Revenue from oil and gas is expected to taper off but even with that news Hegar remained optimistic
"I am in no shape form or fashion saying that Texas is going into a Recession, I believe Texas is a very strong state.
The Comptroller's forecasting team expects an uptick in other parts of the economy to offset any oil patch bust.
When factoring in growth and inflation, according to analysts who spoke to me, state lawmakers need at least $101 Billion juts to hold the current budget line. So, that's why the estimate is not viewed as a long term windfall but more like one time money.
"I think this is an opportunity session," said State Rep. Myra Crownover.
The Republican from Denton has crunched budget numbers as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Crownover's wish list includes; money for university building projects, money for infrastructure improvements, additional education funding and re-energizing state pension funds.
"I think this session will be more important, than ever since it is a onetime opportunity, to really do some things to make our state stronger for our children and grandchildren," said Crownover.
There are also those who may want to use the extra cash to replace what's lost by a major tax cut. Other looming issues for this coming session include; beefing up the border surge. Repealing in-state tuition for illegal immigrant children. And allowing those with gun permits to openly carry their handguns.
The priorities will be set by who wins the first floor fight on day one. That battle will be over who will hold the gavel as the Speaker of the House.