Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick included increased teacher pay, school safety and a benefit boost for retired teachers among his top budget priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.
With a $27 billion surplus in the current budget, Texas is expected to be awash in cash for the next two-year budget cycle due to unexpectedly robust tax collections and property value growth as well as a huge infusion of federal pandemic relief funds that offset some state spending.
Lawmakers have a lot of ideas about how that money should — or should not — be spent.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said he wants to use half of the $27 billion surplus to reduce school property taxes, which would benefit taxpayers but not schools.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is expected to win another term leading the chamber, has called for major investments in infrastructure for transportation, water and coastal protection.
For Patrick, property tax relief leads his priority list followed by electric grid reliability, rural law enforcement, border security, mental health and a variety of education-related issues. He also noted that lawmakers should set aside more in the state’s rainy day fund, which currently has a $14 billion balance.
He offered only broad strokes about his priorities, saying the details would be worked out through the legislative process. For example, Patrick said he supported giving retired teachers either a 13th check or a cost-of-living adjustment but didn’t have a preferred approach.
Regarding the teacher pay increase, Patrick noted that the Texas Legislature provided teachers a sizeable pay increase in 2019 and he’d support doing the same again in 2023.
In 2019, a provision in House Bill 3 provided for increases in teacher salaries by raising the minimum salary schedule, which lifted salaries for teachers in districts paying at or close to the schedule. That mechanism, however, does not ensure that all teachers benefit from the additional funding. TCTA has urged lawmakers to take a different approach this time by increasing the basic allotment and adding a provision to guarantee a minimum increase to each educator.
Patrick spoke at a news conference on Nov. 30 shortly after the 10-member Legislative Budget Board set the upper limit for general appropriations at $135 billion — a 12.3% increase — for the 2024-25 state budget.