Border security, tax relief and raises top list
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For the Texas House and Senate, there is not much daylight between each chamber’s priorities in this year’s legislative session. Leaders say the focus will be on property tax relief, border security and employee raises. Preliminary budgets from both chambers were released last week, the Austin American-Statesman reported, with a record $288.7 billion budget for the next two years. The money in the budget is made up of $93.7 billion in federal funds, $130.1 billion in state general revenue funds, and $64.9 billion in other funds.
The tussle likely comes when lawmakers start spending a whopping $32.7 billion budget surplus sitting in the state’s coffers from the previous biennium.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick want to provide property tax relief to homeowners, with Patrick proposing raising the homestead exemption to $70,000 from $40,000. Both draft budget bills set aside $15 billion – almost half the surplus – for property tax relief.
Increased funding for border security, public education and for raises for state employees are also in the draft budgets, which are likely to change several times before session’s end.
The Texas Tribune reported the preliminary budgets still leave more than $50 billion in state funds up for grabs. One of the biggest challenges is that state law and the Texas Constitution set limits on how much tax spending can increase between sessions.
Natural gas supplies held up during winter storm
The bout of sub-freezing temperatures blanketing much of the state a few days before Christmas sparked concerned for the state’s electric grid, which reached its highest peak for the entire year. But the grid held, and natural gas supplies to power plants were ample, state officials said.
The Texas Railroad Commission issued a press release saying, “There was ample natural gas supply to help the state’s electricity supply chain and keep Texans safe.”
The agency said it would continue to inspect natural gas facilities throughout the winter to ensure “infrastructure is hardened against extreme weather conditions.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October said the grid is still at risk of failure during extreme winter conditions, such as what happened in February 2021 with Winter Storm Uri.
Overhaul plan for power market gets initial approval
The Public Utility Commission last week approved a potential overhaul of the Texas electricity market in hopes of attracting private investment in new power plants, the Statesman reported. However, the Texas Legislature has ultimate approval. Critics say the plan is untested and could increase electric bills for consumers.
Abbott has already backed the plan, which is an effort to make the power grid, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, more reliable. It is intended to encourage more private investment in “plants that can turn on and off quickly depending on need.”
If approved by legislators, the plan could take up to four years to implement.