With the start of the 2018, unemployment is low and tax revenue is on the rise in the Lone Star State. However, big bills are coming due for the state's highways and health care programs. In the previous session, the legislature underfunded Medicaid, which they often do to get the state through the end of the biennium. But now, they could be facing a $2.5 billion bill for Medicare alone, not to mention highways and damage from Hurricane Harvey. To put this into perspective, when lawmakers return for this next session, they will have a $94 million beginning balance. That compares to $880 million the previous session and $7 billion the session before that.
However, the news isn’t all bad. State Comptroller Glen Hager said if oil and gas revenue continues to rise, that could boost the state savings account balance to about $11 billion. Also, while Harvey destroyed a lot of personal items, people are buying things to replace them and that could create a sort of sales tax boom.
Happening this week, a panel of state lawmakers grilled state university leaders on Wednesday to discuss freedom of speech. The meeting took place at Texas State University, where the school’s student-run newspaper published an opinion article titled "Your DNA is an abomination." The article said white people "shouldn't exist." That’s only one example of divisive issues sweeping state schools. In North Texas, boycotts and rallies were held to protest a speech from the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Other rallies and by white nationalists like Richard Spencer at Texas A&M have seen similar responses. Wednesday, lawmakers took a closer look at school policies regarding how controversial speakers will book future events and security costs involved. This is just the beginning of crafting a policy to deal with the issue in the future.