WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE APPROVES SPENDING PLAN
(AUSTIN) — After months of deliberation, negotiations and work, the Senate passed its version of the state budget on Wednesday. The Senate plan would spend $8 billion more in all funds than the version that passed out of the House earlier in the session. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan said the bill meets the state's obligations while recognizing economic realities. "This bill maintains and preserves critical state programs. This is a smart bill," he said.
The Senate's budget would spend $176 billion over the next two years. It restores several programs that were cut under the House plan. The Senate kept reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers intact, and restored funds that were cut to Child Protective Services and rehabilitative services.
The education portions of the bill anticipate passage of another Senate bill SB 22 by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro. Ogden has said throughout the session that simply making budget cuts won't get Texas out of the woods with respect to future shortfalls. If the state doesn't deal with the structural deficit in education spending, Ogden believes lawmakers could be facing another multi-billion dollar shortfall when they return in 2013. SB 22 attempts to address this problem by moving away from the current system, which promises schools the same level of funding they received in the 2005-2006 school year. It would begin the gradual implementation of a new formula system. Shapiro believes that her bill combined with Senate budget appropriations would mean that no school district would see more than an eight or nine percent funding reduction for next biennium.
One contentious issue facing budget writers this biennium was the use of the state's Rainy Day Fund, a $9 billion pool of money intended to be used for fiscal emergencies. The Senate plan as passed did not appropriate funds from the RDF; instead, it implemented a contingency rider that would balance the budget by cutting $1.25 billion from healthcare services and implementing a 1.2 percent across-the-board spending cut at all state agencies. Ogden said he doesn't think it will come to that though. He believes that as the state's economy continues to improve, additional revenue will mean that that contingency plan won't need to go into effect.
Now that the Senate has passed its budget, members of both Chambers must come together to work out differences between the two versions. Five Senators and five representatives will work to come up with a consensus plan that can gain support in both houses.
Monday, the Senate joined the rest of the nation in celebrating the mission that took the life of the world's most notorious terrorist. The announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden sparked celebrations in streets across America. Acknowledging the sacrifices of America's servicemen and women in fighting the War on Terror begun after 9/11, the Senate also took time to listen to one of its own with a close connection to the event. Freshman Senator Bryan Birdwell of Granbury was a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army serving in the Pentagon when it was attacked on September 11. Burned over most of his body, Birdwell has endured many surgeries and rehabilitation to repair the physical wounds he received that day. He said the death of bin Laden at the hands of American special forces members sends a clear message to America's enemies abroad. "The question isn't whether we as a nation are making our enemies mad. The question is what are we doing to make sure that our enemies learn never to make us mad," he said. "Last nights's operation answered that question."
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 9 at 11 a.m.