Capital Highlights: Marches come one day after inauguration of new president

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AUSTIN — Thousands of Texans were on hand to witness the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20 in Washington.

President Trump closed his 16-minute inaugural address by saying: “Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.”

Displays of patriotism took other forms the following day, when the Women’s March on Washington attracted a multitude ranging in size from 500,000 to more than one million people. Similar gatherings were held in Austin and other large cities around the country and the globe. Counters estimated that somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000 people took part in the Women’s March on Austin. The 12-block march up Congress Avenue from the city’s Ann W. Richards Bridge on Lady Bird Lake ended on the south side of the Texas Capitol grounds.

In Washington, Austin, and in many other cities, Women’s March participants spoke in favor of women’s rights and to protest racial inequities. Other prominent topics included “LGBTQ” rights, immigration reform, equal pay for equal work, minimum wage increase and environmental issues.

Most elected representatives were on hand for the inauguration, but 67 Democratic members of Congress refused to attend, following the example of civil rights champion Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Among those who did not attend were Texas U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Al Green of Houston and Filemon Vela of Brownsville.

Budget proposals are made

Earlier in January, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released a 2018-2019 biennial revenue estimate of just under $105 billion in general revenue available for lawmakers to use in crafting a new state budget.

Hegar’s estimate set a benchmark for budgets to be written in the coming weeks by each house of the Texas Legislature. 

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee released an initial budget that includes $103.6 billion in general revenue spending. The House Appropriations Committee’s version tipped the scales at $108.9 billion, signaling much work to be done before the two bodies can agree. 

One of several key differences in the committees’ budget calculations comes from growth projections in public education. The Senate estimates an increase of 80,000 students in Texas public schools over the next two years. The House estimates an increase of 165,000 students over the period.

Paxton joins others in letter

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Jan. 19 announced his decision to join 13 other state attorneys general in signing a letter to the Trump administration. Those states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The joint letter urges the repeal of two new rules that signatories said would expand the definition of critical habitat for endangered species promulgated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The Obama administration abused the limits of its office when it expanded the power of unelected bureaucrats to kill economic development on private property,” Attorney General Paxton said. According to the letter, “Critical habitat designations, by their very nature, limit human activity. That limitation almost always results in a lost economic opportunity.”

Funding method is studied

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, in the December 2016/January 2017 edition of Fiscal Notes, referred to certificates of obligation as a “controversial funding tool” for local projects. 

Local governments, Hegar wrote, normally must seek voter approval before taking on new bond debt for the construction of projects such as hospitals, schools and water infrastructure. Instead of going that route, he pointed out, some local governments use certificates of obligation to fund such projects without voter approval.

Between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2015, Hegar said, outstanding debt in the form of certificates of obligation issued by local governments rose by nearly 85 percent, compared to the 50-percent growth rate for total debt held by these entities.

“Fiscal Notes” can be found at www.comptroller.texas.gov.

DPS looks at safety threats

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Jan. 20 released the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, an intelligence estimate drawing data from law enforcement and homeland security agencies.

“As terrorism has become more disaggregated, communities in Texas and across the nation are facing a heightened threat of terrorism and the continued potential for attacks against civilians and members of law enforcement is a serious ongoing concern,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. 

The report, in addition to terrorism, identifies threats such as organized crime and cartels, natural disasters and cyberattacks.

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