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By a vote of 131-16 the House passed its version of the 2018-2019 Texas budget at 1:30 am Friday, earlier than many observers had expected given the large number of substantive amendments legislators wanted to discuss. The House budget provides for about $218 billion in spending over the next biennium, close to the amount the Senate approved in its budget last week.
The House considered key amendments related to high-priority issues: child welfare, public education, and restoring cuts to made over the interim to a program for disabled children’s physical, occupational, and speech therapy services. House members filed more than 400 amendments, although many were withdrawn or otherwise disposed of without debate.
Rainy Day Fund
The House voted to use $2.5 billion from the “Rainy Day Fund,” while the Senate chose to defer a scheduled payment to a later date to make $2.5 billion available to appropriate this year. Despite the infusion of $2.5 billion, both budgets would underfund core programs and services.
While the House has not considered legislation that would establish a school voucher-type system, the members voted resoundingly to prohibit the use of any state funds on private schools with a vote of 103-44. Amendments that would have established voucher programs and eliminated in-state tuition for undocumented students were not adopted.
The House also rejected a proposal to eliminate funding for the Texas Commission on the Arts. Members pointed out that participation in the arts is closely correlated with academic achievement.
The House voted to use all remaining funds in the Texas Enterprise Fund to restore cuts in services for children with disabilities, and to increase funding for Child Protective Services. After initially adopting the provision with no dissension, some members had second thoughts and asked to reconsider—but the body voted 127-18 to maintain the funding shift from business to children.
Members also voted 82-61 to raise the reimbursement rates the state pays to those who care for foster children. Currently, the state reimburses about 80 cents on the dollar of the actual cost to care for foster children. The House budget initially proposed to raise that to 95 cents on the dollar. Legislators voted to increase the reimbursement rate to 100 percent of actual cost, funding the increase by moving roughly $20 million from the Attorney General’s litigation budget.
Legislators engaged in robust debate about the merits of drawing down federal funds for health insurance available through the Affordable Care Act. The proposal to maximize federal funding and state flexibility in Medicaid was tabled but generated significant discussion.
The House adopted a provision to increase funding for Zika prevention and preparedness in the Texas-Mexico border region. They also voted to establish a grant program to assist domestic victims of human trafficking.
Texas Impact was disappointed that the House rejected an amendment that would have required the Department of Family and Protective Services to produce a report on its outreach efforts to faith communities. DFPS is slated to receive nearly $1 million to hire new faith-based FTEs to recruit faith communities to help with child welfare. The amendment was an opportunity to highlight the good that the faith community does for the state, and provide needed transparency. The amendment was tabled 91-46.
Also tabled was an amendment that would have prevented the state from continuing to use taxpayer dollars to appeal rulings that Texas' congressional districts are intentionally discriminatory.
Texas Impact was supportive of a proposal to shift $10 mil from the Texas Lottery Commission’s advertising budget to the advertising budget of Healthy Texas Women. The proposal was adopted without a record vote.
Members of the media and legislative insiders pointed out that the 15-hour budget debate had vanishingly little impact on the bulk of the $218 billion package. Nevertheless, the House budget debate is an important opportunity for all House members to speak on the floor about their priorities and concerns. On issues such as border security; abortion; PTSD; gender identity; and police brutality, members offered amendments solely for the purpose of speaking about the issue, withdrawing their amendment after making their point.
In addition to hard work and diplomacy, the budget debate featured moments of tension and harsh language. Omnipresent throughout the debate was an abacus, reminding members of the budget leadership of former Rep. Sylvester Turner, now Mayor of Houston.
The next step in the process is the appointment of a conference committee made up of Senate and House members. The conference committee’s final budget must be approved by both chambers before the Legislature adjourns May 29.