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Analysis: The Texas Legislature’s 83rd Session

News Release

AUSTIN, Texas, September 9, 2013 -- In the September 2013 issue of the Texas Bar Journal, Baker Botts L.L.P. lawyer Royce Poinsett provided a detailed review of this year’s Texas legislative session. In the opening, Poinsett noted that “[t]he current era of American politics is often lamented as excessively partisan, ideological and rancorous. And Texas politics has often held its own in those regards. But to many observers, the recently completed 2013 Texas legislative session stands as a welcome — and surprising — exception to modern political dysfunction.”

These observers have struggled to describe the session, using long-idled terms such as civil, collaborative, workmanlike, and even — gasp — bipartisan, Poinsett wrote. For the most part, the 2013 Texas Legislature avoided ideological and partisan warfare and focused on constructively addressing major policy challenges facing the state.

Two main factors contributed to this relative congeniality and productivity, he stated.

First, many legislators arrived in Austin with a diminished appetite for conflict. They were still exhausted from the painful 2011 legislative session, which was driven by partisan battles over budget cuts, redistricting, and immigration. During their election campaigns they heard many voters complaining about the partisan warfare and dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and as a result, in 2013 legislators filed and pushed far fewer bills on controversial partisan topics, and many such bills stalled early in the committee process.

Second, the Legislature was blessed with a rosy state budget situation, far rosier than in the brutal 2011 session when the Legislature bridged a historic $27 billion shortfall with substantial cuts to education and social services.

This session, a recovering economy gave legislators billions more in sales tax revenue to work with, and surging oil and gas production taxes deposited more than $11 billion more into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund), Poinsett stated. Flush coffers always improve a legislature’s general mood — it is more pleasant debating where to invest than where to cut—and this session they also provided legislators with sufficient resources to finally address high-dollar infrastructure needs.

Thus the 2013 Legislature was able to focus attention and dollars on three significant, and largely nonpartisan, policy issues: restoring last session’s public education cuts, investing in new water infrastructure, and increasing funding for transportation infrastructure. And as discussed below, the Legislature was fairly successful on all three of these fronts.

The complete Texas Bar Journal article is available here.

Background on the Government Relations group at Baker Botts is available here.

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