Texas House and Senate Start Off the Legislative Session With Vastly Different Budget Proposals

Jan 18, 2017

From Texas Standard:

The Texas House and Senate released their separate budget proposals for the next two years on Tuesday. There’s a nearly $5.3 billion difference between the two.

Both sides of the legislature come up with a proposal each session, a set starting point for the negotiations that will most likely take place up until the budget is due on June 1. Lawmakers will have until then to fight out what amount of state funding will go to which agencies.

Texas lawmakers had less money to work with for setting the budget – what state Comptroller Glenn Hegar projected as $104.9 billion, which is almost $8 billion less than the state had to spend for 2015 and 2016.

 

Sean Collins Walsh, reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, says this is just the opening shot.

“Both houses and the governorship are controlled by Republicans who do not want to raise taxes under any circumstances,” he says. “To balance it this year looks like there's going to have to be some cuts."

Here’s a quick breakdown:

– Overall, the Senate budget would spend $213.4 billion – a 1.5 percent total budget reduction; the House proposed a $221.3 billion budget

– The Senate would use $103.6 billion in discretionary funding; the House plan would use $108.9 billion

– The Senate plan cuts overall spending 7.9 percent after inflation; the House would cut 5.6 percent

– The Senate's proposal maintains the current border security spending at $800 million; the House would cut it 17.1 percent down to $663 million

– The Senate allocates $61.2 billion for Medicaid; the House would spend $65.1 billion

– The Senate would spend $32 million on prekindergarten alone; the House would up the amount that goes to education overall by $1.5 billion

– In higher education, the Senate proposes spending $14 billion; the House would allocate $14.9 billion

– The Senate’s proposal sets $260 million for Child Protective Services; the House allocates $268

– The House would add $162 million to the budget for mental health services, one of House Speaker Joe Straus’ priorities

Both houses have yet to explain where the extra money in their budget proposals  (over the expected $104.9 billion) – would come from. Although some House members have suggested money could come from the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.

Use of the fund is a contentious point between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats lean more toward using the fund, which is money set aside for emergency use, while the Republicans are wary of using it for funding ongoing financial needs, instead of temporary or one-time allocations.

Walsh also says lawmakers could see more money trickle in throughout the session.

"Something that tends to happen if we're on an upswing, which Texas is – although not a huge upswing – in the middle of the legislature you may see the comptroller come back and say ‘Actually, we have a couple of more bucks laying around.’"

While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick runs the Senate, Walsh says the chamber has been more conservative on spending. Straus runs a more moderate House.

"That doesn't mean Straus is a liberal by any means,” Walsh says. “Even the House budget would cut spending by 5.6 percent when compared with population growth and inflation for the current services. So this is conservative and more conservative."

Both the House and the Senate have just a few months to reach a balanced budget compromise from each chamber’s proposal.

"These are just starting points,” Walsh says. “I would look more to the specific policies within the budget proposals than the overall number in terms of what fights are going to come."

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.