Texas lawmakers get down to business

Transportation, education funding likely to dominate session

AUSTIN, TX – With the pomp and circumstance of swearing in ceremonies behind them, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives got down to business Wednesday.

The 84th legislative session will likely be dominated by discussion about transportation and education funding - two issues legislators were unable to compromise on in the previous session.

"In San Antonio, for instance, we have 17 school districts and that's a problem for us," said Rep. Roland Gutierrez. "We need to look at consolidating. It's basically allocation of resources - when we're able to do that better we can do education better."

With fuel prices slumping, San Antonio Rep. Justin Rodriguez said now may be as good a time as any to discuss raising the gas tax - something that hasn't been done in more than 20 years.

"Maybe now with gas prices lower that is a more palatable solution," he said.

"This House is committed to ending all gas tax diversions which will; be a good boost for our transportation budget," said Speaker of the House and San Antonio Rep. Joe Straus.

Rodriguez said the Legislature should also explore other funding options for roads and public schools - such as marijuana legalization.

"If it's diversifying through medical marijuana, for example, I think we ought to take a common sense approach and look at that," he said. "There will be several issues like that."

Texas Democrats are also hoping to expand Medicaid.

"We need to make sure that we get $11 billion that was brought down from the federal level to our state. That's important," said Gutierrez. "It's my hope that we can get folks on the other side of the aisle to agree that we have these gaps and these gaps need to be filled for working-class families."

Gutierrez and Rodriguez both know they're outnumbered by Republicans. But even with a new governor, lieutenant governor and comptroller they're confident Democratic voices, especially those from Bexar County will be heard because they believe they have an ally on the other side of the aisle.

"We are very fortunate to have the speaker be from our county," Rodriguez said. "I think that levels the playing field, so to speak, when it comes to what we need for our community, city and county."