Jacksonville Daily Progress
In the midst of a hectic week filled with committee hearings and budget debates, it was a welcome respite to receive the spirited delegation from Hen-derson as we celebrated Rusk County Days at the Capitol. In a place like the Capitol, where every day contains a packed agenda, it is always wonderful to see friendly, familiar faces from home and to be reminded of the reason we came to Austin in the first place: to represent the best interests of the people of Texas.
To that great end, this week was especially important because the House engaged in a thorough debate about the most important issue facing any legislature: the budget. Last session, the budget our state passed was the result of a very trying time. The faltering economy resulted in a $27 billion shortfall which called for many crucial decisions to balance the state of financial affairs. In spite of the difficult process, Texas did what it needed to do and balanced the budget without raising taxes in the midst of a recession. Those same budget cuts have helped us to weather the economic storm that has continued, and through it all, Texas has come out on top and now finds itself in a much more comfortable position. This session, we have restored many of the previous budgetary decreases because of my colleagues' dedication to cutting both taxes and spending.
This new House budget has something in it for everyone and maintains a commitment to fiscal responsibility. I am especially proud of the $264 million dollars we've provided for mental health funding and the 5.5% overall increase in spending which will ensure that our state's services meet the needs of its growing population.
One of the biggest budgetary issues that we face is the state's annual contribution to the Teacher Retirement System. At present, I feel that we are not doing all that we can to provide a lasting financial security for our teachers. That is why I co-authored House Bill 1383 by Rep. Keffer which raises the state's annual contribution to the Retirement System from 5.5% to 7.4%. I truly believe that this bill is the best possible option to ensure that our teachers are taken care of after they pass the torch to the next generation of great educators.
Finally, I want to address the current state of funding for the Wildfire and Emergency Program Strategy. Our only lines of defense against rural wildfires are our Volunteer Fire Departments and the Texas Forest Service, and during the last session, funding for these brave men and women was cut by nearly $30 million - at a time when their services were needed the most. This session, we have restored $20 million of that funding, which is the result of many long hours of work and negotiation. While this is not the greatest deal, it is the best one we were able to achieve with the current fiscal constraints, and that is something we can proudly hang our hat on.
Visit my official member page at: http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=11 to view all the legislation we're working on and please reach out to my Capitol or District office to share your thoughts on the issues.