Update: The debate over the budget in the Texas House lasted well into the night. But it was short and relatively drama-free when compared to sessions past. The budget bill passed 135 to 12.
The two-year budget boosts state spending. It includes small raises for state employees and spares state parks from being closed.
By the end, lawmakers had agreed on what would go into the $93.5 billion state spending plan – $2.5 billion will go back into the public school funding formula after nearly $5 billion was cut in 2011.
There were some heated moments in the approval process – including a debate over school vouchers that would use state money to help send Texas students to private schools.
"You don’t want any kind of voucher or credit and yet the children are the focus," State Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) said. "So really, to me, the focus of this is the institution of education. And that’s why we are where we are today."
"No it’s not because we’re not fully funding public education, Representative Turner. You know that,"State Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said. "Let me finish my answer to your question. We have billions of dollars in the rainy day fund. We have unexpended funds of $685 million in this budget and then we’ve got $500 million in the supplemental budget and yet we’re not doing anything to fully restore the cuts that were made to public education."
The budget went on to pass with an amendment that would restrict funds for school vouchers.
Original Story (April 4, 2013, 5:53 p.m.): Texas House lawmakers have been debating their budget bill today. By the time it’s over, they will hear more than 250 proposed amendments to the two-year spending plan.
State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is optimistic after last session’s cuts in the face of the recession.
“Texas is in a stronger fiscal position,” Pitts said. “Because of the state’s financial health, we’ve been able to restore significant portions of last year’s cuts.”
Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) is one of the lawmakers who want to restore funding for women’s health care this session, but Republicans and Democrats agreed to keep those amendments off the floor for now.
“We want to be able to make sure women get this funding, and we don’t want to jeopardize that,” Howard said. “There will still be efforts to secure more funding, and that will happen through subsequent bills we’ll be voting on.”
Lawmakers are weighing amendments that would fund studies on online voting, public education, mental health programs and teacher retirement funds, among others.