State Budget

KUT News

When the Texas House filed its base budget Tuesday, plenty of attention was paid to how much money the bill spent on things like health care programs and public schools. But there where a handful of programs that - so far - are getting no money at all.

It’s called being zeroed out. The line item is still there in the budget, but just followed with zeros. It’s a political move. Items that are zeroed out typically get some or even all funding back. But only after changes have been made to how the program functions.

Erik Reyna/KUT News

The first draft of the Texas House budget comes in at $89.1 billion, and leaves $5.5 billion in unspent revenue.

"The filing of this budget will allow the House to formally begin a discussion about Texas’ priorities," said House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), in a statement. "This bill recognizes the demands of population growth on public schools and Medicaid, and steadfastly maintains the House's commitment to fiscal discipline."

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Texas lawmakers may have $29 billion more to spend on the state budget this session than they did in 2011. Now, Gov. Rick Perry is floating the idea of tax cuts.

Perry says lawmakers will have more than $101 billion in revenue over the next two years because of the economic climate Republicans have created in Texas. Increased revenue, he says is a reason to push for keeping a tight budget and avoiding increases -- and, as he told lawmakers during the Legislature’s opening day Tuesday, to consider tax cuts.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature will have $101.4 billion to haggle over in crafting its next two-year budget, along with an extra $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, Comptroller Susan Combs announced Monday morning. (Listen to her full announcement here.)

Combs’ official biennial revenue estimate sets the limit of the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up nearly half of the state’s total budget.

Erik Reyna for KUT News

Update: The Legislative Budget Board approved a 10.7 percent spending increase for the 2014-2015 budget. That means – for now – that lawmakers can spend up to $77.9 billion in the two year budget.

That amount will go up in a few months,  as lawmakers add billions to the current budget to pay for an underfunded Medicaid system.

Republican lawmakers pledged today to spend less than the cap allows – no matter the number.

Original Post (10:14 a.m.): The Texas Legislative Budget Board is meeting this morning to set the state’s spending cap for fiscal years 2014-2015.

Gov. Perry called on legislators to back his "Budget Compact" today.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Governor Rick Perry is calling on state lawmakers to cut spending and keep taxes level in the state’s next budget. Perry unveiled details of the “Texas Budget Compact” in Houston today.

“By keeping this tight rein on spending, we can build a more solid, predictable economy that doesn’t put off tough decisions until, in some cases, it’s too late to deal with them,” Gov. Perry told the crowd in Houston. In details noted on the Governor’s website, Perry also called to “preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund” and “cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies.”

The state is in the middle of a two year budget passed by lawmakers in 2011. That budget cycle cut spending by $15 billion.

Image courtesy iwatchnews.org

A study of state government safeguards against corruption gave Texas a barely-passing grade of  D-plus.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas government agencies have paid fired or resigning state employees more than $500 million in unused vacation time over the last decade. It’s a staggering sum that fiscal conservative critics call “ridiculous,” especially in tough budget times.

But state workers say what’s ridiculous is that so many jobs have been cut — and that agencies are so understaffed that employees can’t take vacations.

In each of the last 10 years, state officials paid out an average $50 million in accrued vacation time, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office. That number crept up to $68 million in 2004 and $67 million last year — both on the heels of a budget shortfall and related layoffs.

Liang Shi/KUT News

Texas public school districts have an estimated 32,000 fewer employees than they may have had if the state hadn’t cut more than $5 billion in public education spending during the legislative session. That includes almost 12,000 fewer teachers.

The numbers are from this report released by an Austin-based school finance consulting firm. Moak, Casey & Associates recently surveyed school districts across the state. 60 participated.

By Todd Wiseman for the Texas Tribune

The tiny East Texas town of Alto made national headlines this summer when it furloughed its five-man police department in an effort to save money in this ailing economy.

But Alto is hardly the only Texas community struggling to fund public safety amid falling tax revenues and shrinking state and federal aid. Most cities aren't taking the drastic measures Alto did, but they're finding other ways to scale back costs, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League.

Photo by KUT News

The Texas Education Agency announced another 178 employees will be laid off this week. This is in addition to the 91 employees that were laid off in February of this year.

In addition to the 269 terminated employees, 58 employees retired or resigned and 16 were transferred.

The layoffs mean TEA will see a 32% reduction in staff due to a $48 million--or 36%--budget cut from the state.

Photo via Flickr user pink_fish13

The effects of massive state budget cuts are beginning show up in public schools. Lawmakers cut about $4-billion from the state's K-12 budget in the just finished regular and special legislative sessions. That could mean fewer teachers and larger classes for some.

 The Associated Press reports the cuts will also mean old textbooks for students in the fall. 

The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate, and now, with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT.

Back to Work on the Budget

Texas lawmakers get back to work today on the state’s budget for the next two years.  House and Senate negotiators have reached an overall budget agreement but are still working on the details in areas such as public education and higher education. There are a few other bills, including a school finance bill, lawmakers have to pass for the state’s budget to balance.  The regular legislative session ends next Monday, May 30.

Photo Courtesy The Texas Tribune

Where did the time go? Texas legislators are a mere nine days away from the end of the session and still have to finish work on several bills to finish up their budget for the two-year period that starts September 1.

KUT News

The University of Texas system has informed employees that several health insurance decisions are being put on hold while the Texas legislature tries to figure out how much money its willing to spend on higher education in the next budget.

The letter was followed by an e-mail to those in the UT System highlighting the immediate delays.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

Budget negotiators in the Legislature are at a standstill over the state’s budget for the next two years.  Today the Texas House could take up a couple of so-called “fiscal matters” bills that the Senate’s finance chairman says are key to balancing and passing a state budget without going into overtime, in other words,  a special legislative session this summer. 

Sketch courtesy of Pat Lopez.

Charged Fort Hood Shooter's Defense Meeting with Commander

Major Nidal Hasan's defense counsel is scheduled to meet with Fort Hood's commander today.  Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell will decide whether Hasan will be court martialed and whether he will face the death penalty. Hasan's lead attorney, John Galligan, told the Associated Press he'll urge Campbell not to seek the death penalty because those cases are more costly and time consuming. 

Texas Tribune

Nobody wanted to think about it in January. But as the middle of May approaches, with little more than two weeks left of the 82nd legislative session, a growing chorus of voices is asking: What happens if lawmakers can’t agree on school finance reform?

Photo by KUT News

Texas Budget Having Trouble in the Senate

Senate budget writer Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) hasn't been able to round up the votes he needs to get the Senate's version of the state budget to the floor for debate. Remember the Senate has what's called the two-thirds rule, which means each bill must get the support of two thirds of the chamber before lawmakers even get a chance to try to pass it.

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