This week, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick each released the names of the five members they are appointing to serve on the conference committee tasked with hammering out the differences on the state budget. If they can come to a consensus, the document will be submitted for approval to both chambers.
If Patrick’s list seems familiar, it is…
In appointing State Sens. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound), Chuy Hinojosa (D–McAllen), Charles Schwertner (R–Georgetown), Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham), and Joan Huffman (R–Houston), Patrick is making the same picks he made last session.
They will be playing mostly on defense in order to hold together the strong, conservative budget passed by the Texas Senate that forces government to live within its means, while working to secure the border and protecting the Rainy Day Fund.
Similarly, Straus’ selections are mostly the same as well, though with a couple changes.
On Thursday afternoon Straus announced he would be appointing State Reps. John Zerwas (R–Simonton), Oscar Longoria (D–Mission), Trent Ashby (R–Lufkin), Sarah Davis (R–West University Place), and Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock).
The differences are minor. Zerwas, the current Appropriations chairman, is taking the place of his predecessor, State Rep. Jon Otto (R–Dayton), who retired at the prospect of facing conservative opposition. Otto is now an Austin lobbyist. Likewise, Longoria is the current Democrat leader on the Appropriations Committee, succeeding former State Rep. Sylvester Turner who is now the mayor of Houston.
So what do these appointments mean?
These appointments should be a source of cautious optimism for conservatives. Each of the Senate’s nominees are seasoned veterans who carried the day on virtually all of the major fights last session. Sen. Nelson, the chair of the Texas Senate Finance Committee, has somewhat of a brawler reputation—known for not being afraid to pick fights and with a more than respectable record when it comes to winning them.
In terms of personnel, the House will have the disadvantage. Zerwas is substantially weaker than Otto was and Longoria lacks the clout of his predecessor. Meanwhile, Ashby, Davis, and Gonzales have moved even further out of the mainstream in regard to the House Republican Caucus.
The biggest fight will be over whether or not to raid the Rainy Day Fund, something Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has taken off the table and to which lawmakers should “Just Say No!”
Despite calls from Gov. Greg Abbott to refrain from looting the state’s savings account, House lawmakers have engineered a budget that pillages the fund, uses budget gimmicks to conceal spending, and defunds border security in order to finance their grow–government spending spree.
While unsuccessful in preventing those items from finding their way into the budget, conservatives in the Texas House did successfully affix multiple positive reforms to the document before it passed. Notably, lawmakers secured the addition of a pro–life budget rider fully prohibiting taxpayer dollars from flowing to entities that provide abortions.
The state’s oldest pro–life organization, Texas Right to Life, applauded the inclusion of the provision and called on conferees to ensure it’s included in the final budget.
“We were very pleased and encouraged by the Texas House’s commitment to defunding Planned Parenthood in the Texas budget, and are calling on all legislators to preserve this valuable, lifesaving prohibition through the conference committee process,” said a spokesman for the organization.
Conservatives also secured major victories by defunding two areas of corporate welfare they have been targeting for years—the state’s film subsidy program and the Texas Enterprise Fund. Both alterations should be preserved in the budget as well.
Taxpayers should be calling on their elected officials to make the budget passed by the Texas Senate even more conservative by including the pro–life budget rider and attacking corporate welfare. They should also demand that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hold the line and refuse to allow Straus and his henchmen to raid the Rainy Day Fund.