Houston Senator Rodney Ellis,
chair of the Senate's Finance Committee, explains Senate Bill 1, the
General Appropriations Bill. Ellis was praised by colleagues and Lt.
Governor Bill Ratliff for his effective management of the committee's
crafting of the bill.
Passes Budget Bill
AUSTIN - The Senate today unanimously voted passage of the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB)1, the General Appropriations Bill for the 2002-2003 biennium.
The General Appropriations Bill sets state budgets and outlines spending policies. CSSB 1 proposes a budget of $111.7 billion for the next two-year fiscal period, a 9.2 percent increase over the current state budget.
Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, the chair of the Finance Committee which drafted the 800-page bill, said the panel focused on four key priorities: health and human services, state employee pay, public education and higher education.
"The Texas Senate has created a blueprint that meets the basic needs of a growing Texas while making significant investments in our families," Ellis said. "We are all proud of this budget."
Of the total proposal, $47.9 billion is earmarked for education. Another $34.7 billion is allocated for health and human services. Combined, education and health and human services account for 75 percent of the budget.
Another high-profile issue, health insurance for public school teachers and district employees, is addressed in the bill. CSSB 1 proposes more than $2 billion to fund a plan, with $200 million coming out of General Revenue. CSSB 1 also recommends across-the-board pay raises for state employees and prison guards.
"I praise the leadership of Chairman Rodney Ellis and the dedicated work of the entire Senate Finance Committee on (CSSB 1)," Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff said. "This budget is tighter than the last, but we were successful in covering our most pressing needs and priorities without raising taxes."
As Lt. Governor, Ratliff customarily does not vote on bills being debated in the Senate, although he continues to represent District 1 as a state senator. He broke that custom today by joining the vote in favor of CSSB 1.
The Finance Committee heard testimony and budget requests in almost daily hearings over the last two months. Every state agency and numerous groups appeared before the committee during the hearings process.
"This committee has made every attempt to utilize the limited funds available that provides the most benefit for the people of the state of Texas," said Arlington Sen. Chris Harris, the vice chair of the committee.
CSSB 1 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Rob Junell of San Angelo, will draft its own version of an appropriations bill. When any issues between the Senate and House versions are resolved, each chamber must approve a single bill to go to the governor.
After passing CSSB 1, the Senate moved on to consider several other bills, including a measure authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan that would direct the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to set up an advisory committee on state investments.
Senate Bill (SB) 1547 was easily passed, but not without the opposition of Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan, who questioned having an appointed body in control of what he said could be as much as $21 billion in state money.
Another bill that led to much debate, CSSB 272, was left pending by its author, Dallas Sen. John Carona.
CSSB 272 focuses on interest rates for some unsecured loans. El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, among others, expressed concerns that the bill did not go far enough to protect consumers. Carona agreed to leave the bill pending so he could address their concerns.
The Senate is in recess until 8 a.m. Thursday, when it will reconvene to take up a Local and Uncontested Calendar. The Senate will then stand adjourned until 10 a.m.