Public Opinion and the #TxLege Agenda for Monday, March 6

With the 60-day bill filing deadline looming on Friday March 10, it will be a busy week in the Texas Capitol.  We’ve pulled out a few highlights from recent polling to provide some context for some of Monday’s hearings.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to meet Monday to take up bills proposed by Senators Van Taylor (SB 135) and Brandon Creighton (SB 132) that involve budget cutting.  The last University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll asked about different means of responding to the projected revenue shortfall. Most Texans wanted the legislature to make “targeted cuts to specifically chosen programs,” thought the consensus was much stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, who as a group were much more willing to find ways of increasing revenue, including taxes. 

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categorycolumn-1
Create new sources of revenue, such as new fees and/or taxes17%
Increase existing sources of revenue by raising fees and/or taxes12%
Make across-the-board cuts to all state government programs and agencies20%
Make targeted cuts to specifically chosen state government programs and agencies50%

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categoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Create new sources of revenue, such as new fees and/or taxes27%14%9%
Increase existing sources of revenue by raising fees and/or taxes22%4%5%
Make across-the-board cuts to all state government programs and agencies14%34%22%
Make targeted cuts to specifically chosen state government programs and agencies37%49%63%

Also worth noting here: there's not much difference between mainline Republicans and Tea Party identifiers in these responses.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Create new sources of revenue, such as new fees and/or taxes27%12%2%
Increase existing sources of revenue by raising fees and/or taxes23%9%1%
Make across-the-board cuts to all state government programs and agencies16%18%32%
Make targeted cuts to specifically chosen state government programs and agencies34%61%65%

Before asking the above question, we asked about how aware folks were of the budget situation going into the session.  Only a quarter correctly identified the situation as being tighter compared to 2015, though, to their credit, 45 percent admitted they didn't know enough to say.  There was no significant partisan differences

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The state has more money available compared to 201512%
The state has less money available compared to 201525%
The state has about the same amount of money available compared to 201518%
Don't know enough to say45%

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III will meet early Monday morning (7:30 AM) to discuss both public and higher education. The February UT/TT poll had a big battery on education policy, including asking them what they thought would be the most effective means of improving public education in the state. By a large margin, by a large margin, Democrats see putting more money into teachers and public schools as the best approach compared to other options. Republicans are more divided among the offered approaches, though almost a quarter also seem to embrace more spending.

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Creating a school voucher program13%
Expanding the number of charter schools7%
Increasing the pay of public school teachers13%
Increasing funding for the public school system20%
Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession8%
Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take21%
Increasing opportunities for online learning4%
Grading individual schools on an A-F scale7%
Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs7%

The House Energy Resources Committee is scheduled take up HB 1818, the inevitably heavily lobbied sunset bill for the Texas Railroad Commission. Sunset Commission Chairman Larry Gonzales’ bill focused more on dispute resolution and reporting of commission oversight activities, as well as empowering the commission to establish pipeline safety and permitting fees.   Renaming the commission to something that reflects its actual role, which is regulating the oil and gas industry, is an oft-mentioned reform that came up again in Sunset hearings but is not in the sunset bill. Score one for tradition and cost savings (all that stationary!), say opponents of renaming the commission; proponents of calling it what it is see obfuscation of a regulatory body often considered captured by its industry. Given conditions on the ground in Texas, discussion of renaming seems like a PBS special Kabuki theater production brought to you by Exxon Mobil. In the last University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, we asked:  Which Texas agency regulates oil and gas production in the state?  We got the following:

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Texas Railroad Commission42%
Texas Department of Agriculture10%
Texas Department of Public Safety4%
Public Utility Commission of Texas24%
Don't know21%

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will consider three bills relating to policing:  Senator John Whitmire's SB 1138, which would create an apprehension alert system after police injury or killing; Senator Royce West's SB 12 for creating a grant program for law enforcement agencies to purchase bulletproof vests; and Senator Don Huffines' SB 798, which would designate July 7 as Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day.  As an institution, the police enjoy high approval ratings, though with variation in support among different groups, particular by race and ethnicity.

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categorycolumn-1
Very favorable33%
Somewhat favorable31%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable15%
Somewhat unfavorable9%
Very unfavorable9%
Don't know/no opinion3%

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categoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Very favorable15%19%53%
Somewhat favorable33%30%29%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable22%18%7%
Somewhat unfavorable14%12%4%
Very unfavorable13%16%4%
Don't know/no opinion3%3%2%

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categoryWhiteBlackHispanic
Very favorable42%14%21%
Somewhat favorable31%16%39%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable11%31%15%
Somewhat unfavorable8%10%11%
Very unfavorable5%29%9%
Don't know/no opinion2%1%5%

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categoryUrbanSuburbanRural
Very favorable26%35%38%
Somewhat favorable33%31%28%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable17%15%14%
Somewhat unfavorable9%9%8%
Very unfavorable11%8%10%
Don't know/no opinion4%2%2%