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Sunday, February 18, 2018

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What happens if the Texas government shuts down


Texas state capitol during the day. What would remain open during a Texas government shutdown?

A government shutdown in Texas is possible and can halt the University’s classes | File Photo/The Cougar

The federal government shutdown for three days, but a continuing resolution was signed Monday night ending the shutdown for at least another three weeks.

The Texas government can shut down itself, but it hasn’t happened in modern times. Nonessential services run through the state would halt operation with state security services still operating. The University could shut down if there is not enough money to operate from tuition and donations.

What would cause the Texas Government to shutdown?

Failure to pass a funding bill in a legislative session would shutdown the Texas government, Political Science professor Cal Jillson said.

“If the budget fails to pass then the spending authorization for the Texas state government would lapse,” Jillson said.

Brandon Rottinghaus, UH political science professor, said the state constitution requires the state to pass the budget and the governor to call a special session to pass funding. Though, it doesn’t stop the legislature from failing to pass a budget before a new fiscal year in a legislative session.

“They are at work for the budget day one. It’s the first bill introduced,” Rottinghaus said. “There’s an old saying from Lt. Gov. Hobby that the budget is the only thing they have to pass.”

Has it ever happened before?

In modern times the Texas government hasn’t been shut down, but there have been close calls.  The Texas legislature meets on odd number years for 140 days ending in May. The governor can call a special session for 30 days as many times as the governor wants. The fiscal year for state government starts Sept. 1 every year.

UH political science professor Richard Murray said there has been times when the budget was not passed until Aug. and it becomes a game of “chicken” among legislatures whether they are going to pass the budget or not.

Will it ever happen?

The federal government shutdowns over policy disputes, while the Texas government has been threatened to shutdown whether or not there was enough money to fund the government, Murray said, because the state by law must have a balanced budget.

The budget is a large and complex, and always passes in the final days of the Texas Legislature, when many other bills are up for final consideration,” Jillson said. “But, it almost always passes.”

The governor has the power to line-item veto appropriations in the state budget. Jillson said this power contributes to the prevention of a government shutdown in Texas with the governor having large control over money the state spends.

Murray said since republicans control both the state house and senate they would be unlikely to “shoot themselves in the foot” by not funding the state government. He said there is an increase in risk of a shutdown if democrats take control of the house in 2018, which he said they have a fair shot at.

Would the University stay open?

Jillson said that Universities could stay open as long as they have money to operate from tuition and donations. However, he added that the state government could still shutdown state universities for political purposes.

Murray said however the University would likely have to close since so most of the funding for classes comes from the state.

“We open about the 20th of August, but September 1 we roll into the new fiscal year. If there’s no budget, the state can’t send out any money,” Murray said. “So you could be asking people to work without getting paid with the promise of down the road we’ll make you whole again.”

Rottinghaus said the absence of a budget would create lots of “uncertainty” for public universities and public school, though public schools receive the majority of their funding from property taxes.

What else would shut down or stay open?

A shutdown for the Texas government would be similar to a Federal government. “Nonessential” services would shutdown and services related to security of the state, like border control, would remain in operation, Jillson said.

Murray added the Governor would have to work with a team of lawyers to figure out what they can legally fund in the event of a shutdown, and there hasn’t been a “test” to see how a Texas government shutdown would play out.

Where else has it happened?

The last state to have a government shutdown was New Jersey last July, and lasted two days. The Illinois took two years to pass a budget from 2015 to 2017.  Jillson said they passed continuing resolutions, like what the federal government did Monday night, for two years until passing a budget. 

“The federal government does a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t do that much stuff that involves the daily lives of the citizen. because most people aren’t in the military and most of us aren’t going to a national park,” Murray said. “When state governments fail to pass budgets, people don’t get paid, vendors don’t get paid. (It) really causes an awful lot of disruption.”

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