LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - East Texas state representatives Trent Ashby and Travis Clardy are packing their bags and getting ready to head west to Austin for the 85th Texas Legislative Session.
Ashby and Clardy will both be going back for their third session together.
"It works great with us sitting together," Ashby said. "Our votes go so good with each other because they do affect East Texas."
They are not the only two East Texas representatives. Ashby and Clardy are joined by Chris Patty from Marshall. The three are better known as "The Three Amigos."
"We work really good together," Clardy said. "If you then go beyond that and add in James White to the south and Senator Robert Nichols and Senator-elect Bryan Hughes, we have a strong voting block. We are able to preach a consistent message about what's needed and the importance of East Texas."
The main issue facing legislators this session could be balancing a fiscal budget. Last year, committees were given an order that their budgets were to be cut back by 4 percent.
"We are going to be looking at a very tight budget picture," Ashby said. "All of the budgets that have been submitted will show a 4-percent reduction."
Clardy said that could look like a $2 billion to $8 billion dollar difference compared to the last session.
"I think there is some good news on the horizon," Clardy said. "For a variety of reasons, the Saudi's have tightened the spigots in the Middle East, so we are seeing the price of oil go up. We were projecting an $8 billion shortfall. I am hoping that is going to be closer to $2 billion. In a $220 billion budget, that is something we can deal with. Should anyone go in there and expect us to hand out money freely? No. We are very tight-fisted."
A Battle over school finance could also grab headlines from the state capital. Back in May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the controversial Robin Hood system was constitutional but could use improvement. Both East Texas law makers agree something will get done.
"It is very complicated, and that to me is the biggest problem," Clardy said. "It's too complicated even for professionals to understand, much less the average tax payer or the student of the parent. Let's focus not on how this affects taxes. Let's focus on how it affects education."
"While it is constitutional, I think it is a system that we cannot be proud of," Ashby said. "There will be discussion about how we look at a new formula that is more fair, equitable, and that meets the needs of our population."
There could also be a trickle down effect from D.C. Ashby said border security is something the state could get help on from the federal government. Clardy said agrees but said that could be a few sessions away.
"I am confident that the new administration will step up with the border issue and take control like they always should have," Clardy said. "In the meantime, Texas will continue to do what we have done which is secure the Texas border and do the right thing. Unfortunately, I don't think there is going to be enough time to get it done by the time we get out of session."
Other issues that could be addressed by the legislators could be an overhaul of the foster care system and changes to higher education. Ashby and Clardy are also both working on numerous bills that could be presented early on in session. Those bills include tougher penalties on those that attack law enforcement officers and bills that allow more transparency into what is being spent by Texas law makers.
"We have a full plate, and we have not even gotten done there yet," Clardy said.