E-News from the Office of Senator Van de Putte
Governor Perry has signed the new $151 billion dollar biennial state budget into law. It will become effective September 1, 2007. During the 80th legislative session, my colleagues and I worked hard to improve healthcare and education for Texas residents and while I am very proud of a number of initiatives funded for the upcoming biennium, I am disappointed by several higher education items, which the Governor vetoed.
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
The new budget increases funding towards the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Senator Kip Avertitt (R-Waco) and I sponsored House Bill 109, which was authored by Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). The bill reinstates a comprehensive CHIP package appropriate for Texas children, which restores many of the cuts made to the program in 2003, when the legislature faced a $10 billion dollar budget deficit. Coverage will be expanded to an additional 135,000 children.
The CHIP program provides primary and preventative health care such as immunizations, wellness exams, eye exams and dental check-ups to the Texas children who do not have private health insurance or who do not qualify for Medicaid, because the family earns too much. A family of four can earn up to $42,000 per year and qualify for CHIP. The increase will reduce the amount of uninsured children and provide coverage for prenatal care.
Haven for Hope
Of special interest to San Antonio, the new budget also includes $6 million dollars to be awarded to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to be used for services at the new Haven for Hope. I sponsored House Bill 2524, which was authored by Representative Ruth McClendon (D-San Antonio).
The bill authorizes the development of a pilot project in Bexar County in providing medical and mental health care through intervention and detoxification units. It enables the non-profit Haven for Hope Partnership to establish and operate a public safety triage and detoxification center. In Bexar County, a large number of people with mental illness or substance abuse problems are being "treated" through incarceration rather than through less-expensive options. The facility will serve the homeless, including veterans, suffering from mental health illness or substance abuse issues. It will provide a mechanism for more appropriate and cost-effective treatment. The Haven for Hope is a partnership of the city of San Antonio, Bexar County, University Health System and the Center for Health Care Services.
The new budget also brings about much needed additional funding for public education. This includes an additional $2.8 billion dollars for equalized enrichment, teacher salaries and high school allotments plus an increased state contribution to the Teacher Retirement System from 6.0% to 6.58%
The budget also allocates over $145 million additional dollars to higher education financial aid to serve an additional 63,556 students by 2009 plus $84 million dollars to meet the rapid enrollment growth of our higher education institutions.
While I am disappointed that the legislature was not able to agree on a pay raise that would bring Texas teacher's salaries to at least the national average, we are taking small steps in the right direction. I assure you I will continue to fight for the compensation that is due to our education professionals and para-professionals.
San Antonio Life Science Institute (SALSI)
As approved by the Senate and the House, the budget would have appropriated $6 million per biennium to the San Antonio Life Science Institute (SALSI), a joint research program of the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I am deeply disappointed to report, however, Governor Perry vetoed this line item in the budget.
SALSI was created in the 77th legislative session, but was never funded by the state. UTSA and UTHSC have contributed their own money for the program since the creation of the institute. SALSI has already brought numerous projects to San Antonio, including the creation of the Central Texas Aging Consortium. SALSI has allowed Texas to become an internationally recognized leader in aging studies, battlefield trauma treatment and other debilitating conditions.
Acquiring state funding was UTSA's and UTHSC's top priority for the 80th legislative session, and thus, one of my main funding priorities, as well. Unfortunately, Governor Perry did not agree with our priorities. I believe the Institute will continue to make San Antonio an internationally recognized leader, however, these monies would have certainly fostered further research and served to attract more projects to the state of Texas.
I am proud of the many accomplishments of the legislature in producing a solid budget for the great people of Texas, whom we represent, but I know there is always room for improvement and I am prepared to continue fighting for my constituents.
Please contact me regarding any questions you have. Your input allows me to be an effective legislator.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR VAN DE PUTTE
700 N. St. Mary's St. #1725
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 733-6605 - fax