Texas Senate Approves $ 250 Billion State Budget – But Questions Remain How Federal Aid Will Be Used – Houston Public Media


Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick presides over the Senate session on March 20. On Tuesday, the upper house adopted a two-year state budget, but several questions remain about expected federal aid.

The Texas Senate unanimously approved a two-year, $ 250 billion state budget on Tuesday, although questions remain about how tens of billions of dollars in expected federal aid will be used. – and whether it will arrive in time for lawmakers to use it. legislative session.

“This budget … meets our basic needs in this growing state [and] it is true to the principles of fiscal responsibility that make Texas a strong and prosperous country, ”said the senator. Jane nelsonRepublican Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate finance committee responsible for drafting the budget, told senators Senate Bill 1.

The Senate budget as passed includes $ 117.9 billion in general revenue, or approximately $ 5 billion on the amount Texas Comptroller Glenn hegar proposed lawmakers should work with it. But that doesn’t take into account over $ 35 billion in federal funding. in coronavirus aid, much of which will go to state government. Senators acknowledged during Tuesday’s debate that these funds could be difficult to appropriate, depending on when they arrive and the conditions that may be attached to them.

Nelson, requested by the State Senator. Royce WestD-Dallas, if those federal dollars would be allocated before the end of the regular legislative session in May, said she “certainly can’t say they definitely will.” If those dollars arrived during the interim, Nelson said, there was wording in the spending plan that would allow lawmakers to give their opinion on how that money is being allocated.

The bill is now heading to the House, which tabled its own biennial budget proposal in January. The House’s proposed budget as tabled would spend $ 119.7 on general revenue, which is also higher than Hegar’s projection. The comptroller made the forecast in January, but warned his projection was “clouded in uncertainty” due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state’s economy. He could change his estimate of income before the Legislative Assembly adjourns.

Yet the legislature must pass a balanced budget before lawmakers speak out. Both chambers will have to reduce their proposed spending plans or rely on accounting maneuvers, such as pushing back certain items or dipping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, to help offset some of that spending.

The Senate spending plan as passed would not take dollars out of the fund – also known as the Rainy Days Fund – which ended 2020 with a balance of nearly $ 10 billion and is expected to end the fiscal year 2023 to $ 11.6 billion if lawmakers don’t use it, according to Hegar’s Update in January.

The Senate budget continues to spend the most on public education and health care, with the plan fully funding public schools in the state as part of a school funding system. Lawmakers overhauled this funding system during the 2019 session by increasing funding, which included salary increases for teachers and slowing the growth of local property taxes. The current budget plan also adds $ 1 billion to property tax cuts on which the legislature spent more than $ 5 billion in 2019 and an additional $ 453 million to spend on pensions for retired teachers.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Brownsville Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the finance committee, said his “worst case scenario” this session would have been massive budget cuts to public schools like the cuts lawmakers made in 2011 after a recession .

“I most sincerely hoped that we wouldn’t have to adopt another such devastating cut 10 years later with the budget,” he said, referring to last year’s economic fallout from the pandemic. . “I’m glad we didn’t.”

In addition to drafting the 2022-2023 state budget, lawmakers will also need to pass legislation covering spending from the current budget. In January, Hegar predicted that the Legislature would face a deficit of nearly $ 1 billion for the current budget – an improvement over the $ 4.6 billion projection he made in July 2020. Hegar’s estimate, he said, did not include savings resulting from 5% reductions in some states. agencies.

Before the Senate finally approves its draft expenditure plan, the State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, read a statement to the chamber explaining why she was voting for the bill.

“After the year we have had,” she said, “it is miraculous that we have produced a bill that we can all support”.

And in a statement after the vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick applauded Nelson for his leadership, saying the lawmaker “had done a masterful job.”

“Like all budgets passed by the Senate since I have been lieutenant governor, SB 1 is within the spending limit set by the Texas Constitution and, once again, the growth rate does not exceed population multiplied by l. ‘inflation,’ said Patrick. “SB 1 will help ensure that the economic outlook for Texas continues to be bright.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, non-partisan media organization that educates – and engages with – Texans about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

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