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 on.
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.
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 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.
All in all, not too shabby. The lack of a Medicaid rider is disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Too many Republicans, starting with Perry, Dewhurst, and Abbott, who just don’t care if people can’t get health care. The $4 billion in public education money is impressive, the highest number I’ve seen all session for public ed. It’s not $5.4 billion, but it’s a pretty significant fraction of it. There were a lot of twists and turns and allegations and accusations along the way, with various deals along the way being reported as agreed to and blown up, with threats of a special session featuring all kinds of awful agenda items for Democrats if they didn’t give in. Burka accused the Democrats of “forgetting how to win” after they spiked a deal that would have infused $3.5 billion into public ed but represented a walk-back of prior commitments by the Rs. I wonder what he thinks of them now. There are of course still reasons why a special session may happen, but assuming Rick Perry doesn’t spike the budget the scope for such sessions is now a lot smaller, and thus a lot less dangerous. Nice work, y’all. BOR has more.