As Legislative Session Nears End, Texas Budget Agreement Reached

Texas State Budget Rick Perry during State of State address / Austin American-Statesman[/caption]

On Friday, members of the Texas Legislature agreed to a deal on the Texas State Budget that includes more money for public schools in exchange for $1 billion in tax cuts and fee rebates. The agreement comes after a tumultuous round of negotiations that was nearly derailed Wednesday after Senate leaders held out for $300 million more for higher education, while House leaders sought more spending on public schools.

“This is a very good budget, and I don’t know how many member of the House or Senate could vote against this budget,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams to the Austin American-Statesman.

Previously, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1, a bill that would increase school funding, while the House passed House Bill 1025, a bill that would provide $200 million in education money and $2 billion for a new water fund.

On Thursday, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst claimed that a deal had been reached between the House and Senate. However, House Democrats, who are needed by the GOP to surpass the 100 vote threshold to pass the portion of the House bill that provides for the water fund, had not agreed to the Senate’s package and spent much of Friday discussing whether or not they would join in agreement.

Democrats ultimately got a $3.9 billion education package. The package includes $3.4 billion for public school and additional money for teacher pensions and other education programs.

“While it doesn’t restore the $5.4 billion in education cuts, it puts back $3.93 billion that was taken away, and you cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Representative Trey Martinez Fischer.

However, the Democrats had to concede $631 million in utility fee rebates, which comes from a fund that helps low-income Texans pay their electrical bill, and a few million dollars in business tax cuts to be used for $1 billion in tax relief.

A minor issue that is still being discussed includes the amount necessary to take out of the $12 billion rainy day fund. Senator Tommy Williams claimed he would continue to fight to remove $2.9 billion dollars from the rainy day fund in order to pay off highway construction debt.

“I haven’t given up,” he said. “Texas is the fastest-growing state in the country, and we clearly have a shortfall in our highway funding. It’s undisputed that that’s the case.”

The bill will face a final vote in both chamber in approximately a week from now. If Governor Rick Perry signs the budget — as he is expected to — it will go into effect immediately.