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Overview of the 84th Legislative Session

By Dade Phelan

The 84th Legislative Session has officially ended.  We spent the last 140 days cutting taxes, securing the border, defending the Second Amendment, improving educational opportunities and funding our transportation system. I am excited to be back in Southeast Texas and look forward to sharing my experiences as a freshman in the Texas House of Representatives.
This month’s column will focus on the budget, House Bill 1, which is the only bill our State Constitution requires the Legislature to pass.  Of course, that did not stop the other 6,475 bills and resolutions from being filed!
The two-year budget finally approved was a fiscally conservative and responsible plan that addresses the various needs of this rapidly growing state.  The highlights are:
• House Bill 1 has an increase of 3.6-percent in all funds and only 5.8-percent in state only funds.  This was well below the 6.5-percent population plus inflation benchmark set by the Texas Conservative Budget Coalition (www.conservativetexasbudget.com).
• The Teacher Retirement System’s health care fund, which covers over 230,000 individuals, had a $768 million shortfall and was fully funded.
• $800 million was allocated to secure our southern border. The majority of this increase will be focused on strengthening the Department of Public Safety’s current border program, adding additional troopers and providing for much needed technological improvements to prevent crime and illegal entry into Texas.
• Lamar State College – Orange was provided the debt service necessary to issue a tuition revenue bond for the construction of a $10 million multi-purpose educational facility. This allows for much needed facility growth without raising taxes or tuition. In addition, the college received a total of $2,154,000 for two new scholastic programs – allied health and maritime technology programs.
• Future enrollment growth plus an additional $1.5 billion was added to public education. The statewide formula average per student will increase from $5,040 to $5,140.
• $40 million for an advanced program for kindergarten through third teachers focusing on math and reading training.
• $130 million for a high quality pre-kindergarten grant program to improve curriculum and personal.  This will not expand the existing half-day grant program or include three-year-old children.
• $3.8 billion was appropriated to transportation improvements including ending over $1.3 billion in diversions from the State Highway Fund.
• $150.7 million over last biennium was added to mental health programs primarily targeting at risk children likely to become wards of the state.
• An 8-percent salary increase for state correctional officers.
• A 3-percent formula funding increase for higher education and medical schools.
• The controversial Emerging Technologies Fund was eliminated.  The bulk of balance was split among the state’s various research institutions.
• $3.8 billion in total tax cuts including a $10,000 homestead exemption increase while slashing the onerous franchise tax by 25-percent across the board.
• The Rainy Day Fund projected to be  $11 billion was kept completely intact.
• There is an additional $6 billion that will remain in the treasury unspent.
• Additional information on the 2016-2017 budget can be found by visiting the Legislative Budget Board’s web site at: www.lbb.state.tx.us.
It is honor of a lifetime to serve the citizens of Southeast Texas.  I will spend my summer traveling throughout District 21 giving a legislative update to various groups.  If you would like a first hand account of the 84th session please contact my office.  As always if I may be of assistance in any other matter please contact me at dade.phelan@house.state.tx.us or 512.463.0706.
God Bless you all and God Bless Texas.

Dade Phelan is Texas House Member Representative for District 21