Morgan Christian, Manager, Public Policy, and Dave Moore, Staff Writer
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political advocacy looks a lot different this year. But the Dallas Regional Chamber, which traditionally holds an “Austin Fly-In” during the Texas legislative session, adapted to a new approach for engaging state leaders on issues important to the greater Dallas business community.
Through a two-day event on March 9 and 10 called Dallas Regional Day with State Leaders, the DRC’s members got an inside look at the 87th Texas State Legislative Session through the eyes of lawmakers and Texas policy experts – but in an interactive, socially-distant and virtual way. The DRC confirmed nearly a third of the Texas House committee leadership for the event, as well as Governor Greg Abbott.
Likewise, top state lawmakers got to hear directly from the DRC about its policy objectives, including preserving Texas’ economic development success, investing in the state’s future workforce, and supporting COVID-19 recovery. Observing and taking part were representatives from some of the DRC’s most-involved members, including Lockheed Martin, Toyota Motor North America, Texas Instruments, Fidelity Investments, and the University of Texas at Arlington.
Texas House Higher Ed Committee Chair Jim Murphy shared his priorities via a Zoom discussion moderated by the University of Texas in Arlington’s Dr. Teik Lim on the first day of the event. Chairman Murphy shared that while there might be a five percent drop in funding available for higher education in Texas, many policies – such as Common Course Numbering, which allows community college credits to transfer to four-year institutions – can be advanced this session without additional funding.
Dale Craymer, President of the Texas Taxpayers & Research Association, also spoke on the first day. Craymer shared that it appears as though federal stimulus funding might help Texas overcome its budget shortfall.
“It was pretty much determined that there was enough federal money flowing to the state that could be directed towards that $6 to $7 billion” budget deficit, Craymer said. “And probably close the numbers, so that even though – on paper – it looked like the budgets wouldn’t balance, recognizing we had this federal money we can access, they (the House and Senate budgets) would balance.”
Other elected officials speaking on March 9 included Texas House Rep. Angie Chen Button, the Republican co-chair of the Dallas delegation. On March 10, her Democratic counterpart Rep. Victoria Neave took part.
The second day of the event kicked off with a discussion led by Scott Braddock, editor of the Quorum Report, who discussed the current state of play in the legislature . Rep. Chris Turner, Chairman of the House Business and Industry Committee, followed Braddock, discussing reforms of Chapter 313, the Texas Economic Development Act.
Senator Nathan Johnson, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Administration, followed Rep. Turner and remarked on lawmakers’ focus on the state’s power grid and fight against COVID-19 during his discussion.
“There are no Democrat electrons and no Republican gas molecules,” Johnson said of the bi-partisan work being done to resolve the issues with Texas’ power grid. “I’ve been pretty impressed with the joint effort, with no R’s and D’s on the lapels.”
To close out the day on March 10, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott outlined his legislative agenda and praised the DRC for its role in driving economic growth in the state of Texas.
“I know this for a fact: there has been basically no place in the United States of America that has been more active with regard to economic development over this past year [than Dallas],” Abbott said. “And it’s really quite amazing when you think about it, because this past year has been a year of a pandemic, a year when you would not think that we would have very much robust economic development.”
Abbott covered a broad swath of topics during his speech, from the root causes of the rolling blackout that struck Texas in February, to his order to lift the statewide mask mandate. Abbott also discussed his support of business liability reforms and expanded broadband access, which he called pro-business, pro-education and pro-health care. Abbott said he believes Texas has the funds to make expanded broadband access happen this session.