WAXAHACHIE — State Representative and Rotarian John Wray explained how Congress works and some critical issues facing it.
First, Congress only meets during odd-numbered years for 140 days beginning the second Tuesday in February. Second, nothing happens when they are not in session. This procedure was set in 1876 after Reconstruction when people were fearful of big, active government.
After an identical bill is passed by both houses of Congress, it is given to the governor who can sign it, veto it or let it rest at which time it becomes law. The system is designed to kill bills. This past session 8,000 bills were proposed, but only 1,200 became law — most of them were of only local interest such as a road repair.
The only thing Congress is required to do is set the budget for two years, and its most important priority is keeping schools open. K-12 education is the most significant budget item at about $80 billion followed by roads and transportation at about $30 billion. Public health or Medicaid is an unfunded requirement from the federal government which some think will be the most important budget item in a few years.
Property tax reform is also a hot button for Congress. During the 2015 budget session sales taxes were up, so some school taxes were relaxed. In 2017 sales taxes have been flat so there is pressure to increase the school taxes again. This year they were not able to reduce taxes or improve education funding.
Representative Wray also mentioned that, although the high-speed rail has many more votes in Congress, it is to be privately funded and he believes that will be the death of it.
Much more detail of the budget can be found on the Texas Comptroller web page at www.comptroller.texas.gov.
After the meeting, the Rotary Club honored Representative Wray by awarding him a Paul Harris Fellowship, a mark of significant contribution to Rotary.