• July 28, 2014

Negotiators reach Texas budget deal

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Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 4:30 am

Top House and Senate negotiators agreed to a two-year budget for the state of Texas Friday that restores about $4 billion of $5.4 billion in cuts to public education made in 2011. It also creates a path for lawmakers to put $2 billion toward water infrastructure projects.

The five House members and five senators of the Budget Conference Committee voted unanimously to adopt a final draft of the portions of the budget that remained unresolved, including Article 3, the portion focused on education and the area on which most of Friday’s negotiations focused.

The main numbers of the budget are still being calculated by the Legislative Budget Board. But John Opperman, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s budget director, said the total budget would be less than the $195.5 billion budget the Senate approved earlier in the session. The budget is about $700 million below the state’s constitutional spending limit, he said. The budget still needs to be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor.

The budget adopted Friday does not include a controversial rider setting guidelines around how Texas might negotiate with the federal government over expanding Medicaid. Senators had adopted the rider in their budget plan but the House had voted it down.

“The House wouldn’t agree to it,” said Senate Finance Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Under Friday’s deal, the $2 billion in water funding will come from the state’s Rainy Day fund, a reserve made up mostly of oil and gas taxes. That funding will be found in House Bill 1025, a supplemental budget bill that addresses funding on various issues.

Funds for education

The roughly $4 billion for public education hews closely to what Democrats had pushed for all week after acknowledging they were not going to be able to completely restore the last session’s cuts. Budget conferees agreed to $3.2 billion for the Foundation School Program, the main account the state uses to fund public education. Another $200 million is expected to be added to the Foundation School Program in HB 1025.

As part of the $4 billion education package, negotiators also agreed on a $330 million infusion into the Teacher Retirement System’s pension fund.

This additional $200 million into the Foundation School Program was the subject of a tense exchange between Williams and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, the lead negotiator for the House Democrats. Turner asked why the money is being put in HB 1025 instead of in the budget. Williams said the budget has to move forward. When Turner asked again, Williams said, “Because I said so.”

The budget conferees also agreed to partly end a diversion of gas tax money that has normally gone to the Department of Public Safety. Under the budget deal, only $200 million of gas tax revenue would go to DPS, instead of the $600 million that is normally allocated. DPS will receive the other $400 million from the state’s broader general revenue account. The Texas Department of Transportation will receive the extra $400 million of gas tax revenue for road construction.

The budget also includes a 3 percent raise for state employees over the next biennium.

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