Conference Committee on Appropriations Bill Reaches Agreement
Austin - After an eight hour meeting overnight budget meeting, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst today declared that the Senate and House are in general agreement on the budget, but are still ironing out the details.
Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reported that a joint Senate-House committee will be putting the final details into the appropriations bill today. Bivins called the budget process "a difficult balancing act."
The conference committee has agreed to appropriate an additional $500 million for higher education to bring the funding up to the level set in the Senate's version of the budget.
Dewhurst said that public education will be funded at 100 percent for equity and enrollment growth.
An additional $200 million was appropriated for social services, with an agreement reached to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program at 200% of the federal poverty level, as specified in the Senate version of the budget.
Under the agreement, no state schools for Texans with mental retardation or state hospitals for the mentally ill will be closed.
The conference committee agreed to deter some payments concerning the Foundation School Program as recommended in the Senate's proposed appropriations bill.
$1.3 billion in federal dollars allotted to Texas under the federal Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, yet to be signed by the President, was not used to balance the state's budget. "I don't think it's fair to spend money that we don't have yet," said Bivins.
Dewhurst said that the money will help to assure that the budget is certified by the comptroller.
The Senate passed twenty-one bills in session today, including one aimed at improving students' performance on math and science tests. House Bill (HB) 411 would establish a Master Science Teacher Certification Program to provide teachers with special training on how to improve student science performance.
The legislation would also authorize a school district to provide an intensive after-school or summer science instruction program.
Senate sponsor Rodney Ellis of Houston said that passage of HB 411 was one of the governor's priorities.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 26, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.