AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas budget writers have come to an agreement on how they’ll spend taxpayer money over the next two years.
In a series of hearings this week, members of the conference committee for Senate Bill 1 reviewed the decisions for the nearly $247 billion budget. The Senate passed its version 31-0, and the House voted 149-0 to approve its version.
“We’ve had some serious, challenging challenges brought about by the pandemic economic downturn and other natural disasters,” State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.
Despite those challenges, lawmakers are on the verge of passing a balanced budget, Nelson, who serves as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said.
“We kept the commitment we made last session to public education and then some,” she explained. “This budget maintains our commitment to education, meets our obligations to vulnerable Texans, strengthens public safety and funds many other priorities — all within our constitutional spending limits and population times inflation.”
At first, it was thought that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would have a heavy hand in allotting any pandemic-related federal funding that comes the state’s way after lawmakers gavel out May 31. One of the provisions, approved by the House, would have triggered a special session so more legislators would help determine how federal stimulus money would be spent if more than $1 billion was awarded to Texas. That was stripped out during budget reconciliation, leaving the governor in charge of where the money goes.
“That’s kind of taking a big step back from what the House was wanting, which is a much more public and kind of deliberative process that involves the legislature, instead of leaving it to possibly just a handful of legislators, plus the governor,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, state budget analyst for left-leaning public policy advocacy group Every Texan.
But Thursday night, Abbott said in a statement he will be calling a special session in the fall for redistricting, as well as allowing the legislature to help dictate where an allocation of nearly $16 billion in coronavirus relief funds will go during that time.
“As everybody knows, I will be calling a special session for redistricting in the fall, and have committed to Lt. Governor Patrick, Speaker Phelan, Chairs Nelson and Bonnen, and Vice Chairs Lucio and Gonzalez that I will place the allocation of the nearly $16 billion in Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Relief federal funds on the same special call so the entire legislature can participate in the allocation process in a way that best serves all Texans.”-Statement from Gov. Greg Abbott
Another House preference influence how public education money would be spent was removed from the budget proposal by the conference committee.
State-owned higher education institutions were told to cut their budgets last year during the pandemic, but the state spending plan did not fully make up for those losses.
DeLuna Castro said those institutions may push the costs to students in the form of tuition hikes.
“If universities think they have to respond by raising tuition, that will really be a growing burden for students that may already find college unaffordable,” she said.
Abbott gets to approve or veto each line item in the budget. While he’s expected to do that sometime in June, each chamber must pass the budget by May 31.
“We will be bringing to the floor of both chambers a responsible budget that keeps Texas strong and successful,” Nelson said.