Case Counts/Testing in Texas — As of July 19th (4:05 PM data)Total Tests Performed — 3,207,857Confirmed Cases —325,030Active Cases — 148,136Hospitalizations — 10,592Fatalities — 3,958Recovered Cases — 172,936

Comptroller Estimates Budget Deficit

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified today in front of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) regarding the economic and revenue forecast for the state.  The LBB is led by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House, and is charged with preparing budget estimates and setting the constitutional spending limits.  Hegar testified today that because of the ongoing pandemic, the amount of general revenue available to the state for the current two year budget cycle (2020-21) is projected to be $11.5 billion less than estimated than when the budget was written last session.  The previous estimates also, under healthy economic conditions, projected the state would have a budget surplus at the end of the current biennium, which ends in August of 2021.  Due to the the new estimates and severe downturn in the economy, Hegar now predicts that the state will face a budget deficit of nearly $5 billion just to get to the end of the 2020-21 biennium.  To address this deficit, lawmakers will have to supplemental appropriations bill when they convene for the regular session in January to fund all commitments made for the current budget cycle.

This is just the beginning of the budget issues that lawmakers will face when they convene in January.  Hegar will issue a new budget estimate prior to January that will guide legislators when writing the 2022-23 budget.  Due to a decrease in sales tax collections and oil and gas productions taxes, which are two of the largest sources of funding for the state, the estimate has the potential of creating an even larger deficit for the upcoming biennium.  

Opening of Schools

Due to increased pressure from state health officials and school teachers, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Friday that public school districts will be allowed to delay on campus instruction for at least four weeks from their scheduled beginning start dates, and obtain an additional four weeks with approval from the respective school boards.  To assist public school districts with remote learning, the TEA announced on Friday that it will allocate $200 million to local school districts to allow them to purchase eLearning devices such as home wifi devices for students that lack connectivity.  Regarding private schools, the Attorney General issued an opinion on Friday that said the private schools are not subject to TEA guidance and have the ability to open on campus instruction at their discretion.

Republican State Convention Adjourns with Unfinished Business

The state Republican convention was full of confusion and chaos this weekend.  After having to hold the convention virtually due to concerns raised by the city of Houston over large in person gatherings, the party experienced a myriad of technical problems that caused delays and interruptions of lifestream speeches to delegates by Lt. Governor Patrick and US Senator John Cornyn.  Delegates did finally select their delegates for the national convention and chose presidential electors.  However, due to all the delays, the delegates voted to adjourn the weekend meetings and hold a second convention to finish business related to the party platform and rules moving forward.  And when all was said and done, Party Chairman James Dickey was voted out of office, and the delegates elected former Florida Congressman Allen West as the new chair of the state party.

Unemployment Rate Falls

The state unemployment rate for June fell to 8.6% from the May jobless rate of 13%.  Since March, 2.9 million Texans have filed for unemployment, but for the week ending July 11th, the number of new filers was only 105,590, a continued decrease in the weekly number of first time applicants.  The reopening of restaurants and retail establishments at 50% capacity has been credited with the decrease in unemployment numbers.  With some hope and luck, and the demand for gasoline on the rise, more jobs in the oil and gas sector could further decrease the unemployment rate in the state.