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Inside Texas Politics: With packed legislative agenda, first order of business for Texas House is choosing a speaker

Picking a Republican leader of a Texas House that is dominated by Republicans hasn’t been without controversy.

Lawmakers will be back in Austin in weeks.

And plenty of statewide challenges will be there waiting for them.

Even picking a Republican leader of a Texas House that is dominated by Republicans hasn’t been without controversy.

The chair of the House Democratic delegation expects most, if not all, members of his party to support Republican Dade Phelan’s bid to become the next speaker of the Texas House.

Phelan’s effort has been opposed by some Republicans themselves, including state GOP chair Allen West, who called Phelan a “political traitor” for his efforts to garner support from Democrats.

“I expect he’ll be elected unanimously speaker of the House, just as speakers in the past often have been,” Rep. Chris Turner said on Inside Texas Politics. “I think we’ll start out on bipartisan footing and hopefully we’ll be able to maintain that.”

Turner says that’s mainly because the state is facing some serious issues over the next few months that lawmakers will have to deal with.

That includes passing a balanced budget, the only constitutionally mandated obligation facing lawmakers every year.

Outside of that, the Democrat said they’re looking at addressing the health, economic and emotional wounds caused by the pandemic.

“We know that we will have less revenue to work with than we would have otherwise because of the economic impact of the pandemic,” Turner said.

Lawmakers will also likely debate emergency authority powers for the governor and local officials after several clashes between the state and cities and counties during the pandemic.

And don’t forget about redistricting, always a controversial topic. 

Turner said when they take that subject up depends on when Texas receives census data from the federal government.

The 87th Texas Legislature will convene at noon on Jan. 12, 2021.

Arlington aims to become major tourist destination

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams is in the middle of his final term and during that time, he has cemented the city’s reputation as a tourist and economic destination.

And as part of his legacy, he’s now working on plans he said will help the city continue its momentum long after he’s gone.

“We have now become the sports capital of the nation,” Mayor Jeff Williams said on Inside Texas Politics. “And our goal is to become the destination between Orlando and Vegas.”

That is ambitious.

But Williams said it’s a goal that is firmly within reach.

And a major component will be a new convention center and 900-room hotel, which has been in the works for a year now.

And Arlington has been chosen as the site of the National Medal of Honor Museum, with the design phase and fundraising already underway.

Williams said he’s also proud that the city has become a leader in job creation, including a new manufacturing center right across from General Motors that brought 2,000 positions from Mexico and Canada.

“In addition to that, we have brought, literally, several thousand other jobs along the I-20 corridor.”

And while he said he’s studying his future in politics, he’s still focused on the present.

“Right now, I’m very interested in the next six months in Arlington and finishing well.”

Legislature, schools districts set for showdown over budgets

When lawmakers reconvene in Austin for the 87th Legislative Session on Jan. 12, the premise of “local control” will be a hot topic, from emergency authority to lobbying.

A top legislative priority for Republicans next year will be trying to stop school districts from using public money to lobby the legislature.

But many educators say the devil is in the details and if you read the fine print it’s easy to see what would be lost.

“More than anything, the opportunity for school districts, towns, counties to have their voice heard,” Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams said on Inside Texas Politics. “There are a lot of issues that are discussed in a legislative session that directly impact our students and teachers.  And we just feel like we’ve got to have a voice there.”

Williams says this is also about local control.

If that’s how local taxpayers and entities want to spend their tax dollars, he says lawmakers shouldn’t interfere.

Williams also told Inside Texas Politics districts are required to have a line item in the budget that accounts for lobbying purposes.

The Sunnyvale ISD, for instance, is found in eastern Dallas County and has around 1,800 students.

For this school year, it budgeted $2,000 for lobbying.

“We’re talking about a $20 million budget and we’re spending $2,000,” Williams said. “For the average taxpayer in Sunnyvale, we’re talking about around 40 cents per household.  And so, it’s a very minimal burden to the taxpayers.”