DALLAS (AP) — Texas Republicans will go into the 2013 legislative session with much of the same agenda as last year: tackle government spending, tighten immigration laws and discourage abortion. But this time, they'll have to do it without a supermajority in the state House.
The GOP won 95 out of 150 seats in the House and 19 out of 31 in the Senate, guaranteeing they'll have majorities in both. However, by failing to maintain their supermajority in the House, Republicans won't be able to suspend the rules and should the Democratic minority in either chamber take a trip out of state, they would lose a quorum to conduct business.
The first order of business will be to make up for a $4.3 billion budget deficit by March, when funding will run out for Medicaid, the health care for the poor, elderly and disabled. Comptroller Susan Combs has forecast $5 billion in unexpected revenue this two-year budget cycle, so covering the tab should be relatively easy.
The next two-year budget, though, will present a bigger challenge, with the Department of Health and Human Services expecting Medicaid costs to increase more than $7 billion. Lawmakers also will need to find cash for increased enrollment in public schools, something they did not pay for last session, resulting in a $5.4 billion reduction in school funding, the first such cut since the Great Depression.
More than 600 school districts have sued the Legislature for failing to meet their constitutional mandate to fund public schools. Most observers expect them to win that suit, but it could be years before the case works its way through the appeals process.
House Speaker Joe Straus, under attack by conservatives who want to replace him, issued a statement welcoming all the lawmakers back and laying out the trouble ahead.
"I look forward to working with all members of the 83rd Legislature to improve public and higher education, make our budget more transparent, maintain a strong business climate and ensure that Texas has the resources and infrastructure needed for further economic growth," Straus said.
While Democrats gained some seats, so did conservative Republicans who ousted some of Straus' closest allies. On Wednesday, more than 100 conservative party activists endorsed state Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola to replace Straus.
"Joe Straus has a record of supporting pro-gambling, pro-choice and fiscally moderate legislation," said Rick Green, of the Torch for Freedom Foundation and Wall-builders. "Texas deserves a conservative speaker that reflects conservative Texas values, and Joe Straus is anything but conservative."