I guess I hadn’t realized that the Senate hadn’t gotten around to passing a bill to close the deficit from the last biennium, since the House had done that a long time ago amid a huge debate about using Rainy Day Funds, but it’s just now that they passed the House’s bill, with a little vig thrown in.
The Texas Senate approved a $3.97 billion draw on the state’s Rainy Day Fund to cover a deficit of the same size in the current budget, but not before rejecting efforts to add on a larger amount to help balance the 2012-13 budget.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, matched the size of the withdrawal to the size of the current deficit. But he asked the Senate to use more of the fund than the House used, casting aside other revenue sources that were in that chamber’s mix. If that prevails, it would mean a bigger draw on the Rainy Day Fund and would make an additional $855.9 million available for the next budget.
Ogden said the bill — HB 275 — isn’t supposed to finance the next budget. He limited the size of the draw on the savings account to the size of the deficit in the current budget. “I’m using the Rainy Day Fund for a single purpose, and that is to cover the current deficit,” he said.
Point being, and I confess I lost some of the details along the way in the fog, the deficit that needed to be closed was bigger than the total amount of Rainy Day Funds that the House voted to use, so the Senate version of HB275 frees up a bit more cash for this biennium. Not that much in the grand scheme of things, but we are well past the looking gift horses in the mouth portion of this session.
Whether the House will go along with this, and whether the two chambers can reconcile their budgetary differences remains an open question. A special session is not just a possibility at this point, it’s a near certainty – as Robert Miller points out, the House did not pass a Congressional redistricting bill before Thursday’s deadline, so at the very least there’s that. Ogden has suggested that a special session could be limited to school finance issues, meaning that other areas of the budget, including Medicaid, could be agreed upon before sine die. That now appears to be the case.
House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on everything in the state budget except for public and higher education and a section of general provisions that can be used later to make sure the numbers in the budget balance.
They left some controversial issues — like funding for family planning — for later. And the leaders of the conference committee — Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan — said they need to resolve their differences over education quickly if they’re going to finish a budget during this regular session.
Time is running short. The conferees have to agree on a budget and coordinate that with other pieces of legislation that plug in, including a group of “fiscal matters” bills that generate money for the budget with cuts, accounting tricks and other measures, and on two bills that cover a nearly $4 billion deficit in the current budget, which runs through the end of August.
Lawmakers are also hoping Comptroller Susan Combs will make more money available. She’s been waiting to see what that business tax will produce — it was due this week — before making any adjustments to her forecasts. Sales tax returns lagged for the first year of the two-year budget period, but have been growing at a robust rate for the last several months. As a result, some budget writers expect her to raise her estimate of what will be available to spend, and expect to hear one way or the other in the next few days.
I don’t know how much hope to have about that. This agreement shorts Medicaid by $4.8 billion, at least some of which is to be appropriated later. The House will tackle some key budget bills tomorrow, at which time we’ll have a better idea of how the rest of this mess will play out. Whatever the case, the end result will be a disaster and an abject failure for the state. That much is already known, and won’t be resolved any time this year.