Speaker of the Texas House and San Antonio Republican lawmaker, Joe Straus? Not so much.
On Tuesday, the Texas Tribune
hosted a half-day's worth of panel discussions during its "A Symposium Previewing the 85th Legislature"
at the University of Texas at Austin. Many statewide lawmakers, when asked about the biggest issues facing Texas during the 85th Legislature, quickly pointed to approving a much leaner budget.
During the 84th Legislature in 2015, lawmakers passed a $209.4 billion budget, the largest in state history. But due to oil price shortfalls, there's going to be much less money to spend this time around – "no question about it," acknowledged Straus. The 2017 state-approved biennium budget is likely to be absent not just millions but billions of dollars.
When the Trib's Evan Smith asked Straus a straight-forward question — which state-funded services aren't going to be financed like before? — Straus balked.
"We'll see," said Straus.
"Surely you have an idea," said Smith, co-founder and CEO of the Trib
"Well, [weird pause], I have some ideas. Not, not enough to fill the bucket."
Later, Smith asked if the state can afford to give property and business owners tax cuts.
"We'll have to wait and see," said Straus. "It's too early to tell."
Other Texas politicians, regardless of whether they were jockeying for a position or not, didn't hem and haw when pressed to discuss their legislative wants and desires.
State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) pointed out that mental health and foster-care reforms are desperately needed. State Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) cautioned against building high-dollar transportation projects
such as toll roads. And State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said that Texas Child Protective Services is not only suffering from budgetary mishaps but also from management snafus. "It's a mess," said Bettencourt about CPS.
Straus did acknowledge that the decision to slash funding for in-home therapy for poor, disabled children was "maybe" a mistake
. The San Antonio lawmaker also said that he intends to throw funds towards trying to fix the state's woeful CPS and foster-care services as well as attempt to reform the state's public school finance system.
However, when asked if bills related to so-called sanctuary cities (an initiative that has received rah-rah support from Gov. Greg Abbott) and E-Verify (which could force certain businesses to verify the immigration and citizenship status of their workers) could receive House approval, Straus again stole the show in a bizarro manner.
"I'm not ruling any bill out. We don't start for a few weeks," said Straus about the Lege, which is slated to begin on January 10. "And don't forget that the House passes bills, too... you have to realize that when members give birth to bills, most of them aren't going to live. That's the sad fact of life. That's why we put new carpet in the House chamber this year."
"I'm not entirely sure where this is going, but ok," said the Trib
We aren't either.
State lawmakers and elected officials have dished about their legislative priorities ahead of the 2017 Legislature.