Finance Committee Approves
$111.7 Billion Budget Bill
AUSTIN - The Senate Finance Committee today passed out a $111.7 billion budget proposal for Texas in the 2002-2003 biennium.
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1, the General Appropriations Bill, represents a $9.8 billion increase over the 2000-2001 budget. Final budget legislation will be crafted by the Senate and House of Representatives. CSSB 1 sets budgets for every state agency and outlines Texas' general spending priorities for the next two-year period.
"This budget meets the basic needs of a growing Texas while making significant progress in several key areas vital to the economy and people of our state," said Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, the chair of the Finance Committee. "This is a very strong budget that will help thousands of Texas families build for the future."
A large percentage of CSSB 1 is dedicated to health and human services, which, at $34.7 billion, accounts for more than 31 percent of the overall budget. The bill also includes $787 million for state employee raises.
The greatest portion of the budget is earmarked for education. CSSB 1 allocates almost $48 billion, or 42.9 percent, of the budget for public and higher education, including $200 million in General Revenue to fund a teacher and school employee health insurance program.
Ellis told the Senate Education Committee, which has held several hearings to explore teacher and employee health insurance proposals, that he intends the $200 million figure to be a starting point for funding an insurance plan. He said as much as an additional $1.9 billion could be derived from other funding sources, including individual school districts' share.
"I'm not sure that we did as much as we wanted to do in any area," Ellis said. "But we did the best that we could do with the available resources."
CSSB 1 does not include any tax increase.
The Finance Committee has spent the past two months hearing testimony and budget requests from numerous groups and state agencies. Ellis said the budget contains "no fat" and cautioned that there simply is not enough money available to meet every funding request.
"When we began this process, I tried to establish four key priorities for the committee -- increasing funding for health and human services, expanding the TEXAS Grants program, providing health insurance to our hard-working Texas teachers and giving state employees a pay raise," Ellis said. "I believe this budget makes significant progress on each of these issues and represents a major down payment for Texas' future."
In other Senate news, San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte spoke at a press conference today about a group of bills she has filed dubbed the "Tulia Justice Bills." Tulia is a small Panhandle town in which 16 percent of the African-American population was sent to prison after a 1999 drug sweep. The arrests and subsequent trials have been criticized by minority and civil rights groups.
Van de Putte said the intention of the bills is to ensure that Texas law fully protects those unjustly accused of crimes.
"Although these bills may be controversial, Texans deserve to know what can happen to them if they are wrongly accused of a crime," Van de Putte said.
McAllen State Rep. Juan Hinojosa, the chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, has filed companion legislation.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Council of La Raza, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens attended the press conference in support of the bills.
In session, the Senate passed six bills, but a seventh, CSSB 108, was left pending after unexpected opposition arose to a motion to debate the bill. CSSB 108, sponsored by Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., would prohibit school districts from beginning classes before the week in which August 21 falls.
The Senate stands adjourned until 11 a.m. Tuesday.