DALLAS – Efforts by Texas lawmakers to boost state revenues as the state struggles to cope with a looming Medicaid shortfall and restore school funding are among more than 250 proposed bills filed Monday.
The 83rd Texas Legislature will open its biannual, 140-day session on Jan. 8.
The $80.6 billion budget for fiscal 2012-2013, adopted by the Legislature in 2011, reduced state aid to education by $5.4 billion and shorted the state’s Medicaid program by $5 billion by funding it for 18 months rather than 24. Lawmakers said the Medicaid shortfall could be restored if revenues exceeded expectations by the opening of the 2013 session.
State revenues in fiscal 2012 were $3.7 billion higher than the $40.3 billion that had been expected, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said in September. The biggest boost came from oil and gas severance taxes, she said, which were totaled $1 billion or some 40% above predictions.
Phillip Ashley, director of the state comptroller's fiscal management division, said last month there is $6.2 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. He told the House Appropriations Committee that another $1.9 billion of energy severance tax revenues will be deposited into the fund in late November.
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said the bills he filed would result in revenue increases of $14.6 billion over two years. The proposals would amend the state sales tax law, he said, with the additional revenue targeted for school aid and healthcare funding.
"The state doesn't fund a lot of things adequately, but these bills show that we can get closer if we have the courage to close tax loopholes," Burnam said.
A bill filed by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would ask voters to approve a Texas Gaming Commission to oversee a limited number of casinos. The revenues generated by state-approved gambling would be earmarked for local property tax relief and financial aid to college students.
Ellis, an attorney and partner with Rice Financial Products Co., said the state is losing money as Texans travel to surrounding states to gamble.
“It is time for our state to capture the benefits of this industry and take advantage of significant capital investment, new jobs, a revived travel and tourism industry, and revenue that will help fund education and keep our promise of lower property taxes,” Ellison said.
A measure to allow the issuance of tuition revenue bonds by state colleges and universities that failed in the 2011 session was one of the 30 bills filed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
Not all the measures are aimed at revenue increases.
Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, wants to eliminate the statewide business tax approved in 2006. The tax, which was levied to compensate for a reduction in local school taxes, currently brings in $4 billion a year.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, called on her colleagues in the 2013 session to focus on balancing the budget while meeting educational needs.
"Our goals next session are, first and foremost, to protect Texas' economic recovery, which is outpacing the rest of the country," Nelson said.