Special to the Reporter
AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, in a joint announcement on Nov. 15, said the Legislative Budget Board had adopted an 8.92 percent estimated growth rate for the 2012-13 fiscal biennium.
The 10-member Legislative Budget Board, on which Dewhurst and Straus both serve, is a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature that develops budget and policy recommendations for legislative appropriations for all state agencies and performs fiscal analyses of proposed legislation.
The growth limit is designated for state tax revenues not dedicated in the Texas Constitution. The constitutional spending limit is based on the spending limit of the previous biennium and the economic forecast from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said, “I believe Texans understand and appreciate that government agencies have to tighten their belts, just like small businesses and families are doing across our state, and do more with less.”
Straus, R-San Antonio, said, “The cuts we are making are essential to address Texas’ budget challenges to ensure we are fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds.”
State agencies have been under a governor’s directive to cut spending in light of the projected budget deficit, which has been estimated between $8 billion and $24 billion.
Certain agencies, however, have the authority to move funds to help with the budget crunch.
The State Board of Education on Nov. 19 voted to increase the amount of funding it will pour into the state budget to $1.9 billion over the 2012-2013 biennium, thanks a boost from the General Land Office.
In September, the SBOE agreed to a payout of about $1.58 billion from the Permanent School Fund, a $20 billion endowment fund that supports the state’s public schools. On Nov. 18, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told the SBOE that he will ask the School Land Board to transfer $500 million from the Real Estate Special Fund Account to the Permanent School Fund. (The General Land Office manages the Permanent School Funds’ land and mineral holdings.)
The transfer, about $300 million larger than anticipated, allowed the SBOE to increase its payout from $1.58 billion to about $1.9 billion for the next biennium.
Money from the Permanent School Fund, which flows through the “Available School Fund,” is required to be spent on textbooks and educational programs.
Ethics code change
Teachers must refrain from inappropriately communicating with students through the use of social media under the requirements of an updated Educators’ Code of Ethics endorsed by the State Board of Education on Nov. 19.
Rules proposed by State Board for Educator Certification must come to the State Board of Education for review before they become effective.
According to a Texas Education Agency news release dated Nov. 19, “Staff requested the change to the ethics code because they said they are receiving disciplinary case referrals in which teachers were found to have sent students thousands of text messages. Sometimes the content of the messages was not inappropriate on their face but the volume of messages and time of day the messages were sent indicated that the educator was ‘grooming’ the student for a future sexual relationship.”
A school district employee commits a second-degree felony under Penal Code Section 21.12 if the employee engages in sexual contact with a student who is not their spouse, the Texas Education Agency stated.
The Lone Star State’s unemployment rate remained at 8.1 percent in October and continued to trend below the U.S. unemployment rate of 9.6 percent for October, according to the Texas Workforce Commission’s monthly report released Nov. 19.
Texas’ total non-farm employment was up by 47,900 jobs in October representing the addition of 172,800 jobs in the last year.
New appliance rebate
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Nov. 19 announced a new rebate program for certain energy efficient appliances.
The program, which will begin Dec. 20, lets Texans who want to save money on appliances apply for mail-in rebates on those purchases.
About $10 million in rebates is available for the purchase of certain “Energy Star” appliances such as air-source heat pumps, central air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, room air conditioners and water heaters.