FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 5, 2011
Experts say money is the top source of conflict for a marriage. No surprise, it can cause strife in the Legislature as well. This week the Senate tackled the state budget. While the budget may be one of the hardest things for legislators to agree on, it is the most important. In fact, it is the only piece of legislation we are constitutionally required to pass. This budget is especially challenging because the state faces a significant financial shortfall. While the Legislature did many things this week, the majority of questions I received were about state funding. To help answer those questions, this week's column focuses on five things about the Senate version of the budget, which I support.
The Senate version of the budget:
1. Is a balanced budget with no new taxes
The state constitution requires legislators to write a balanced budget. Unlike our federal counterparts, Texas senators and representatives cannot deficit spend, nor should we. When a state faces a challenging budget where significant cuts must be made, there is always the temptation to raise taxes. This, however, could be the worst thing to do. New taxes hurt economic growth and prevent job creation at a time when our economy is most vulnerable.
2. Maintains essential services
While the Senate version of the budget cuts $11 billion in total spending from current levels, it still maintains essential state programs and services. We accomplished this by prioritizing the most important state obligations. We agreed these areas are educating Texas' children, taking care of the disabled and elderly, and maintaining public safety.
In education, the Senate budget increases current spending by $1.3 billion for the foundation school program, which provides funds for classroom education and teachers' salaries. Overall, it increases public education spending $5.6 billion more than the House's proposed budget, and restores some financial aid for college students. The Senate budget also maintains funding for nursing homes, foster care programs and state hospitals at current levels. It funds the Texas Department of Public Safety and includes increased resources for border security.
3. Protects the Rainy Day Fund
When it left the Finance Committee, the Senate budget originally used $3 billion from the state's Rainy Day fund. This was changed on the Senate floor. With an improving economic outlook in our state, it looks like our state obligations can be met without dipping into the Rainy Day fund. This will leave sufficient money in the state's emergency fund and give Texas an additional level of financial security.
4. Passed with a majority vote
Earlier in the week, it looked like the Senate might not be able to pass a budget. Generally, bills in the Senate require a two-thirds vote to be considered. Budget writers, however, could not find a compromise that would guarantee that many votes. Using Senate rules, the budget was passed on the floor along party lines with a vote of 19 to 12. All Republicans voted for the budget and all Democrats voted against. While passing a budget with bi-partisan vote is ideal, it was simply not an option this session. To hold out for a two-thirds vote would guarantee legislative gridlock. The failure to produce a budget would result in disaster for public schools, state hospitals and law enforcement.
5. Must now be negotiated with the House
Now that the Senate has approved its version of House Bill 1, it goes back to the House. The House may choose to either agree with the Senate changes or go to conference. In conference, select members from each chamber will negotiate the $12 billion dollar differences between the two budgets. The compromise must then be approved by both the House and the Senate before heading to Governor Perry who may veto it, approve it, or let it lapse into law.