Politics
8:09 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Budget Breakdown: What Texas Lawmakers Approved

Story as it aired on KUT 90.5 FM

Amid all the other items on the agenda, the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature had as its primary task: passing a budget bill. Last Sunday, lawmakers praised the budget deal they'd pass before midnight. State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is the House’s chief budget writer.

"By doing all the good things that are in this budget…we are still able to increase the state budget by a percentage of less than one percent per year with adjusted dollars," Rep. Pitts said.

That budget bill is now on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. 
The two-year, $197-billion dollar budget measure is made up of state and federal dollars. Roughly $95 billion comes from the state’s general revenue. It’s an amount that comes from Senate Bill 1, the main budget bill, and a few other related bills.

Health and Human Services would get almost $30 billion. This biennium, mental health got a boost after national tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook. 

"We added almost $259 million to the over all budget for mental health. That’s a total of over $2.6 billion that’s attributed to mental health this biennium," State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, said.

Much of the back and forth revolved around restoring cuts to public education made last session because of a budget shortfall. After lawmakers cut $4 billion from per pupil spending in 2011, this session they added about 3.4 billion back. 

More than $300 million of that goes towards offsetting the increased amount that school districts must contribute to the Teacher Retirement System, and about $200 million would go to pre-kindergarten programs and an after-school tutoring program -- the Student Success Initiative.

State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, says Democrats had to negotiate with Republicans over water spending in order to make that increase possible.

"Fifty-five Democrats said if you want money for water we need to restore cuts," he said. "And $3.93 billion went back into the budget to restore those cuts above enrollment growth. I think that’s significant."

Of that amount -- about $2 billion  comes from the rainy day fund. That’s the state’s savings account made up from oil and gas tax revenues. Lawmakers also approved spending $2 billion from that fund for bank accounts set up to finance the state’s water infrastructure projects. But that money will be spent only if voters approve that in November. Because lawmakers made setting this money aside for water dependent on a constitutional amendment, that depends  on voter approval.

The budget boosts spending on libraries, children court advocates, veterans, salaries of state employees and the Parks and Wildlife Department.

The House and Senate also approved almost $1.5 billion in tax cuts to both small businesses and for electricity rebates.

Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says the spending is not as much as it was before the recession.

"The budget is like a middle aged person trying to fit into the clothes they wore in high school," she said. "The idea is we started off the session with enough money in General Revenue and the rainy day fund to get services back to where they used to be before the cuts made in 2011."

Transportation was the big loser this biennium. While officials were hoping for billions to fund projects and infrastructure across the state, they got just millions. Some are asking the Governor to add transportation funding to the call of this special session on redistricting.