AUSTIN - The Senate remembered a former colleague today. Former State Senator Ed Howard served in the Texas Senate from 1979-1986, and in the Texas House from 1969-1974. Howard lost his battle last year with cancer. He represented Senate District 1, in Northeast Texas. His family was present on the Senate floor today to receive a memorial resolution.
Teachers and tax cuts were the focus of the school finance proposal passed out of the Senate today. The bill allots $1.6 billion for increased teacher pay. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 4 increases the minimum teacher's salary by $4000 dollars a year, but only teachers who are below the new minimum salary would be guaranteed a pay raise. The bill requires schools to give at least 60% of the new state funding to teachers. The bill also provides an extra $50 million for fast-growing school districts and $750 million for all districts to finance new buildings and old debt.
Lt. Governor Rick Perry praised the effort. "All in all I think this is a very balanced, a very well thought out, a compromise between those that would like to see teachers taken care of in a very substantial way and some of those who would like to see some of this budget surplus go back to the taxpayers of the State of Texas," said Perry.
Bill sponsor Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo says $1.1 billion is going directly to tax cuts. Critics say it will only keep local school districts from increasing taxes. Bivins disagrees saying, "This bill results in a billion, 100 million dollars of tax dollars in taxpayers pockets."
Bivins admits that not every teacher will get a pay raise and not every homeowner will see a property tax cut. He says this bill was a compromise between competing interests and hopes the House keeps that in mind when it considers the proposal. "I'd say it's a pretty delicate balance that we've got here and if it's attempted to be pushed very far one way or the other I think we risk losing a majority vote to approve a conference committee report," said Bivins in a press conference after passage of the legislation.
In other legislation passed today, Texas doctors would be able to join together to negotiate with health benefit plans. Witnesses testifying during committee hearings on the issue showed doctors in favor but insurance companies against the bill, which is sponsored by Arlington Senator Chris Harris. Harris stressed that CSSB 1468 is not an attempt to unionize doctors; he argues it might even discourage such action. The attorney general will monitor the entire process -- from the doctors initial organization through the end of their negotiations with the health benefit plans.
Finally, Internet access would be exempt from sales tax under CSSB 341. This brings Texas state law in compliance with recent federal law. Bryan Senator Steve Ogden sponsored the legislation which passed today.
The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, April 29, at 10:00 a.m.