CASE Event Recap
Winter 2011 Kick-Off Breakfast
Rep. Strama speaks at CASE Kick-off Breakfast

"The numbers you've been hearing are real," State Rep. Mark Strama assured a crowd at CASE's Winter Breakfast on Legislative Issues.

The Austin Democrat was referring to the much-publicized budget shortfall that the State of Texas is facing. Strama, a former CASE Annual Summer Conference keynote speaker, then detailed for the attendees the dramatic magnitude of the estimated $27 billion budget shortfall.

"This economic downturn has been so profound, severe and sustained that revenues in the current biennium have come in $4 billion below the forecast upon which the current budget was certified," Strama said, indicating that it would take $4 billion just to pay for the current biennium's budget shortfall.

Strama bemoaned the current biennial budgeting process and the difficulties it presents in forecasting State revenue figures, noting that the system was set up at a time when legislators where forced to ride horses over distant areas and treacherous terrain to arrive in Austin to conduct their business. "Our biggest source of revenue is sales tax," Strama stated, "I'll submit to you that anybody who thinks they can predict sales tax collections 30 months from now with any degree of accuracy is out of their mind."

Strama listed several items that could help increase revenues to soften the financial crisis, including the use of the so-called "Rainy Day" reserves, federal surplus dollars for education, and adjustments to the way Texas collects sales tax on Internet sales. "At the end of the day if we do everything that is politically viable to raise revenues, we're still going to end up looking at double-digit billion-dollar cuts," Strama said, "I think it is surmountable, but it is going to take creativity, strategy, smarts and people working together in a very apolitical way."

Strama indicated that the crisis could cost some legislators their positions. "People are going to get defeated…after serving in this legislature," he stated.

"It's an inherent conflict of interest," Strama said of the process that allows legislators to, in essence, draw their own districts. "I've always advocated that it should be done by an independent commission," the District 52 representative stated. "I'm abstaining from the vote on redistricting," Strama then declared.

Strama noted that the process would affect water districts and those who represent them in the legislature. "You probably have to pay attention," Strama said of the district directors in the room, "you ought to have voice in that process, for example, you might want to be indivisible…or have multiple options on whom to turn to. You ought to weigh in on the process."

Strama discussed the retirement of former Natural Resources Committee chairman Senator Kip Averitt - "the most knowledgeable person in the legislature on water issues" according to the representative. "Water issues will be important like they always are," Strama said, but given the budget and other issues, "I don't expect this to be a big water session."

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