Texas lawmakers may face budget problems this year

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Could plummeting oil prices thwart promised tax-cuts? That's just one of the issues facing lawmakers this session (KTRK)

Less than two weeks on the job and Comptroller Glenn Hager had the gargantuan task of telling us how much money those running the state of Texas have to spend on our behalf.

That estimate, $113 billion, relies heavily on sales taxes, business taxes, and oil and has revenue. If you haven't noticed, energy prices have dropped (WTI Crude fell below $50/barrel for the second time on Monday), and that means a less optimistic short-term future in Texas.

"In no shape form or fashion am I saying that Texas is going into a recession," explains Hager. "I think Texas is a very strong state. Obviously oil and gas is very important to the state."

Hager suggests that lower oil prices can mean higher sales tax revenue and boosts in both manufacturing and construction. Regardless, the challenge remains for the biggest turnover in state leadership in decades.

"As the old saying says there's a new sheriff in town," laughs Houston Democrat State Senator Sylvia Garcia, who finds herself in the political minority. "In this case there's a new sheriff in town everywhere you look so I think we're all waiting to see the tone that will be set."

The "sheriff" with the shiniest badge is perhaps Houstonian and Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick. He defeated longtime Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in last year's Republican primary.

At a news conference late last week, he laid out his plan for this session and where he'd like to see the money spent.

"We're gonna fund border security at the highest level in a budget in the history of Texas," he told a crowd of reporters at the Capitol in Austin.

Just how much funding will that be? Patrick hasn't said yet, though he has indicated he wants a property tax cut this year.

So how much of that $113 billion will go to education? What additional funding will expand road and water infrastructure?

With a slowing economy, legislators may have to hope $113 billion is enough while relying on Hager's estimate. He's based the figure on oil at roughly $65 to $70 per barrel.
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