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Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen suggests ordering 5% budget cuts for state agencies

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An aerial view of the Capitol during the coronavirus outbreak on March 23, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has reached out to fellow state leaders to initiate conversations about the state’s economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that the lower chamber would like to discuss a directive to all state agencies “to immediately identify and execute 5% budgetary savings.”

“It has become apparent that the time to engage in long-term economic planning is now,” the Angleton Republican wrote in an April 9 memo to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, which was obtained Wednesday by The Texas Tribune. “While it is true that we do not have an immediate funding need or a lack of COVID-related emergency funding, all indications are that we will most certainly have a future state revenue concern due to lagging economic conditions statewide.”

In the memo, Bonnen also wrote that he would like to begin conversations about settling on instructions for legislative appropriations requests, or LARs, for budget planning for the 2022-23 cycle. The memo was shared last week with the House Appropriations Committee and its staff.

It’s unclear whether Bonnen’s fellow Republican leaders responded to the letter. Spokespeople for Abbott and Patrick did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.

Bonnen wrote that “a small 5% course correction now, with nearly 17 months for implementation … is a far more achievable goal than having to attempt a much larger cut with a much shorter window for execution.”

“In pursuing this course of action, it would be imperative that we give agencies maximum flexibility,” he writes. “Enabling agencies flexibility to enact a 5% reduction gives them the opportunity to identify savings they view as the most prudent and efficient while allowing them to safeguard mission-critical functions."

Bonnen also noted that “additional cuts may be warranted” after Comptroller Glenn Hegar provides his revised fiscal forecast, which is expected to happen in July. Hegar has said that the state is in a recession due to the pandemic — but that he does not yet “know how deep or how wide it’s gonna be” and that it will be at least a couple of months before his agency has a good idea of the data from the economic fallout.

“Taking action now could significantly reduce the need for more draconian cuts a year from now,” Bonnen wrote.

This developing story will be updated.