03.25.13

Senate sends budget to House

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, The Budget, The Lege at 1:25 pm by wcnews

Last week the Texas Senate passed their version of the 2014-2015 budget and it’s on the House calendar for April 4th.  The Senate’s budget shows that they’re more worried about sticking to “conservative” principles then they are doing what is right for Texas, (excluding Democratic Senators Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia, that is), Senate passes two-year budget that leaves billions on sidelines.

The Senate has approved a two-year, $195.5 billion state budget that would replenish college financial aid programs, fund a new mental health initiative, do more for returning veterans and try to stop an exodus of medical school graduates.

The budget, though, would undo just some, not all, of last session’s cuts to public schools. Also, a veteran Democratic senator who reluctantly supported the spending plan questioned whether it would keep up with population growth and inflation.

Senators passed their budget, 29-2. The only no votes were cast by Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who complained senators should have put more money into public schools.

The bill now goes to the House, where the House budget committee has fashioned a very similar, if slightly leaner, spending plan. Overall, the Senate measure amounts to a 7.7 percent rise over current state spending. If federal money, fees and investment earnings are considered, the proposed spending increase is 2.9 percent.

 

Sen. Tommy Williams, the Senate’s chief budget writer, said the chamber’s plan would forge progress in many areas.

“We’ve come a long way, baby, since last session,” he said in jest, after nearly three and a half hours of floor debate.

Williams acknowledged the Senate’s budget wouldn’t bring school funding back to levels that existed before lawmakers whacked $5.3 billion from basic aid and grants in 2011. But Williams, R-The Woodlands, said senators put back nearly $1.4 billion. He predicted higher property values and economic growth would allow lawmakers to fill more of the hole before the session ends in late May.

“While we still have a ways to go, we can make more progress as this whole process moves forward,” said Williams, who heads the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, though, gently chided Williams for worrying more about staying within a constitutional spending limit and preserving state savings than about educating children. The state is expected to have nearly $12 billion in a rainy day fund by August 2015. GOP leaders currently plan to spend about $4 billion of it to create two infrastructure improvement revolving-loan funds.

“If there are the votes to go into the rainy day fund for water or for transportation, I will be one advocating we also use the rainy day fund to help those children,” said Ellis, who ran the budget panel in the 2001 session.

Ellis said the budget falls about 3 percent short of funding current services enough to cover population growth and inflation.

Davis, who launched a filibuster against the budget passed in 2011, warned the chamber’s 19 Republicans that many parents in GOP-tilting districts are upset by crowded classrooms and teacher layoffs caused by the school cuts.

She also criticized GOP leaders’ decision to move slowly on undoing the reductions until the Texas Supreme Court rules in a school-finance lawsuit.

“Public education in Texas is sorely underfunded today,” Davis said, noting it ranks near the bottom in per-pupil spending. “I don’t know why we need to wait for a court to tell us that when we already know it.”

I think many Democratic senators didn’t vote against this because they want to seem reasonable, of now, so they can try and have an influence on the conference committee. It seems unlikely that Democrats will be able to influence the conference committee. Kuff and Stace have more on last weeks vote, including statements from several senators and groups around the state.

This is a step in the process of getting the budget passed through The Lege.  The positioning thus far seems to be that the Democrats are trying to get as much put back as they can that was removed in 2011.  And the GOP is trying to put as little back as they can and call that an increase, when in reality it’s still a cut.  As the only way it could be an increase would be to put everything back that was stolen cut last session, and then put in more.

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