On Thursday afternoon, the Senate released the names of its five members who will serve on the conference committee for the state budget, HB 1.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has appointed Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston) to the conference committee. There, they will work with the five House members appointed on Wednesday to produce the final version of the state budget.
The ten-member conference committee will iron out differences between the House and Senate budgets and submit the resulting legislation to each chamber for approval. If both chambers accept the bill, HB 1 will head to the governor’s desk. If conflicts remain, the committee will reconsider the legislation.
Differences between the House and Senate versions abound, most notably on border security funding, the franchise tax, the Texas Racing Commission, and the implementation of statewide property tax relief.
Patrick’s appointments are generally satisfactory. While they may not be the most fiscally conservative members of their chamber, the Senate conferees are much more likely to work in the interests of taxpayers than those from the House.
- This session, Jane Nelson has been instrumental in pushing very fiscally conservative legislation, such as property tax relief and tighter spending cap measures, through the Senate. She also launched a scathing attack on the Texas Racing Commission and other state agencies that have acted outside lawmakers’ expressed content on their appropriations. However, she did support the retroactive SB 293, which increased the number of events eligible for the Major Events Trust Fund. Nevertheless, Nelson will bring her expertise as the Senate Finance Chair to the conference committee, and may likely end up as one of its most conservative conferees.
- Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa was the highest-scoring Democrat on the 2013 Fiscal Responsibility Index, even outscoring three Republicans. At the end of the day, he’s still a Democrat, but to his credit, Hinojosa has done some good work this session—supporting steps towards transparency and fiscal responsibility on issues such as ballot transparency and local debt. While Hinojosa obviously won’t be as conservative as his colleagues across the aisle, he’s likely the best Democrat that could have been appointed.
- Charles Schwertner has a slightly mixed record. Falling roughly in the middle of the Republican pack last session, he’s made some marked improvements. Though he has supported some expansions of health care spending, Schwertner has been one of the leaders in rejecting Medicaid expansion. This session, he has also introduced measures to rein in higher education costs, supported school choice in SB 4, and ardently defended his franchise tax proposal to help small businesses against critics. Schwertner was also one of only three senators who voted against the unconstitutional SB 293.
- Winning a special election in December, Lois Kolkhorst is new to the Senate, but brings much experience from her time in the House. It was in that chamber two years ago that then-Rep. Lois Kolkhorst joined two dozen conservatives in opposing the 2013 budget. This session, Kolkhorst has been rather tepidly inching toward the right. Though avoiding most of the spending and tax fights, focusing instead on eminent domain, Kolkhorst has authored SB 759 to eliminate a slew of petty taxes. Kolkhorst’s conservative inclination renders her a favorable appointment to the conference committee.
- This session, Joan Huffman has authored SB 1968 to oppose public-sector unions, as well as SB 10 that would move the scandal-ridden Public Integrity Unit to the Attorney General’s Office. While she hasn’t necessarily been a strong advocate for much of the conservative legislation that has passed, she has been a “team player.”
As previously mentioned, the Senate Republican conferees are reasonably good selections. Arguably, they’re a rather strong representation of the will of the Senate chamber. They may not be the strongest fiscal conservatives, but their tendency to stand for low taxes and limited government should inspire a degree of cautious optimism in Texas taxpayers.
Now that both the House and Senate have announced their appointments, the entire conference committee will set to work determining the future of HB 1 and the fate of Texans’ tax dollars.