With the looming shadow of budget fears and an influx of more than three dozen new House members, the 82nd Legislature convened on Jan. 11 to much uncertainty. The budget shortfall facing the state, in some cases estimated to be more than $25 billion, in conjunction with a weakened economy, rising social services costs, declining property values and a drying up of federal stimulus monies, left legislators with many problems and few solutions in a state where a balanced budget is constitutionally required. In fact, legislators needed an extra 30-day special session in order to get their work done.
Lawmakers, many of whom won office on pledges of no new taxes and cutting the "bloat" of government - largely a perception which unfairly or not lumped Austin in with the perceived excesses of Washington - were faced with the prospect of slashing sacrosanct services, including education, where the initial budget proposal was estimated by some to eliminate 100,000 education jobs and underfund public schools by $4 billion.
Legislators were able to address these difficult issues without raising taxes, yet they needed a special session to develop a new school finance plan and cost-cutting reform measures for Medicaid and to revamp the operation of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last (and in many cases only) resort for persons seeking coverage for damage from hurricanes and storms in many coastal countries.