Top level Chamber members from the Catalyst, Advocate, and Chairman's Circle tiers gathered this week for networking reception hosted by McGuireWoods LLP. Chamber board chairman, Ali Khataw, opened the event and thanked the Chamber sponsors and partners. Peyton Smith, managing partner of the Austin office of McGuireWoods, warmly welcomed attendees to the beautiful new law offices. The event featured a fireside chat on the 88th Legislature by former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Denise Davis of Davis Kaufman PLLC and former Chief of Staff to Speaker Straus.

Straus compared the budget shortfall in years past to the surplus the legislature is facing this year. He acknowledged the buzz about the budget surplus. While expectation for the funding is high, Straus warned it will be contentious and difficult to agree on areas of focus.

Speaker Straus shared his belief that neither political party is particularly business friendly right now and encouraged business leaders to be bold in their advocacy efforts. He applauded Chamber members and leadership in the room for supporting the work of the Chamber and for their willingness to hold elected officials accountable.

Davis and Straus discussed Chapter 313 incentives and possible replacement in this session. While Straus didn’t originally enthusiastically support these incentives, he shared his concern that a replacement has yet to be determined. “Burying it and walking away is a dangerous gamble,” said Straus.

The conversation then turned to economic development. Davis noted that while Texas is usually in CNBC’s top five ranking for business environment, we have slipped in recent years from number one to number five and questioned what we can do to get back on top. Praising former Governor Perry, Straus credited Perry’s superb ability to sell Texas to those beyond our borders. Straus suggested that we focus on making our business environment more inclusive and welcoming, sidelining partisanship, cautiously addressing social issues, and putting “endless culture wars to the side.” He encouraged attendees to live up to our motto of being the friendship state.

Davis asked Straus to name a pressing issue facing Texas that isn’t getting enough attention and Straus addressed the water supply. “It’s not emotional until you don’t have it,” Straus said, “but it’s the one that concerns me the most and will be very, very expensive for a very long time as our population continues to grow.” While he recognized advancement in water planning and conservation, he urged Texas leaders to get serious about the threat of water shortage and suggested that the legislature should consider this when making decisions about surplus spending.

Straus emphasized his belief that the legislature’s number one job is to focus on public education and said “public education is our only hope.” As we continue to grow in population and workforce demands remain a hot topic, addressing the teacher shortage was top of mind for the speakers. Straus called the teacher shortage a crisis and encouraged business leaders to support public education and hold elected officials accountable for finding solutions.

  • The Q&A portion of the event wrapped up with a focus on super regionalism. Chamber board members present asked Straus for advice on ways to successfully encourage collaboration along the San Antonio – Austin – Round Rock corridor. The Speaker encouraged these efforts and shared a strong belief that this is long overdue.

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