As Final Hour Approaches, 83rd Legislature Begins Winding Down
The legislative session ends today – meaning lawmakers had a late final night of debating and voting on bills before today's mostly ceremonial end. Lawmakers did finally pass the one bill they’re constitutionally required to -- the state budget.
Contentious issues that caused emotions to flare throughout the session continued to come up on the penultimate day. Issues like taking money out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to pay for the state’s needs.
"I'm disappointed at Republicans leading the charge to try and break into the Rainy Day Fund, try to take extra money out of that," State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, said.
This is the state’s savings account, made up of oil and gas tax revenues. The session’s supplemental spending bill -- House Bill 1025 -- would spend more than $5 billion from the account projected to have close to $12 billion by 2015. Of that, $2 billion would come from the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure.
During the debate on that measure, State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, urged members to pass it. He’s the House Appropriations chair.
"We would not be able to pay for our wildfires," he said. "We can’t do our disaster recovery. We can’t help the city of West with the explosion they had. We can’t pay for water."
That bill’s passage gave way to debate on the most important bill of the session: Senate Bill 1. That’s the two-year, $197 billion budget measure made up of state and federal dollars. Of that, roughly $95 billion comes from the state’s General Revenue Fund to pay for things such as public education and health care.
But State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, says because of HB 1025 and SB 1, this Legislature is spending at least $20 billion more than the last.
"Political magicians thrive not just in Washington, but here in Austin," Rep. Simpson said. "Where upholding the constitution, abiding by legislative rules and political pledges are trumped by accounting ingenuity."
Last session lawmakers made about $27 billion in cuts to the state budget. With more money available this session, a majority of lawmakers have pushed to reinvest in the state's infrastructure needs. State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, said there’s little choice in a state with such rapid population growth.
"Do you want to pay for the success and progress we have in the state or do you want to make excuses to short-change Texans?" he said. "They work hard, they pay their taxes, they want basic services. And guess what? It costs money."
Ultimately, the budget bill passed – and it did so without any language on expanding Medicaid eligibility. Among the happiest statements Sunday came from State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, after the passage of HB 7. It frees up a fund that will help low-income Texans and senior citizens pay their utility bills during the hottest months of the year.
"I believe this will be the only bill going through this legislative session where customers -- mom and dad, individuals who are working -- will receive a direct tax rebate they can feel, they can see and will be meaningful and tangible for them," Rep. Turner said.
Education bills also passed. Senate Bill 2 would raise the charter school cap and House Bill 5 would reduce end-of-course exams and increase flexibility in public high school curriculum. Gov. Rick Perry will have the final say on all of these bills.
He also has a say on whether the work is finished, after 140 days.
Members expect to return for a special session on any number of issues, from abortion bills to redistricting. They could hear from the Governor today.