SENATE APPROVES BUDGET
(AUSTIN) — The Senate passed its version of the state budget Wednesday, approving spending more than $95 billion in state funds over the next two years. Last session, in the face of a multiple-billion dollar shortfall, the Legislature made cuts to public education, health care and other public services. This session, with a revenue estimate topping $100 billion, the Senate plan would put some of that money back and fund other priorities. Senator Tommy Williams of the Woodlands chairs the committee that wrote the bill. He praised colleagues for their hard work in crafting the biennial budget.
This session's budget tops last session's by almost $7 billion in state money, but Williams said that, adjusted for inflation, state spending has only increased about one percent since 2002. That's in spite of rapid growth in the state over the last ten years: a 20 percent increase in public school enrollment, college enrollment up 26 percent and a 75 percent increase in Medicaid costs. This Senate plan chose to put more money into public education, women's health care, wildfire response, and mental health services. The Senate budget would give pay raises to state employees that work in high turnover fields, like corrections and Child Protective Services, in order to retain more skilled workers.
The fastest growing portion of the budget is funding for Health and Human Services. Spending in that area now makes up more than 30 percent of all state spending and 38 percent of the budget, the largest slice, if you include federal spending. Most of the cost growth in health care comes from Medicaid. The 2013-2014 budget would spend $2.5 billion more than last biennium on state health care services, with Medicaid growth accounting for two-thirds of that increase. Williams warned colleagues that if the state doesn't figure out a way to contain Medicaid costs, the state will eventually face an insurmountable problem. " If we don't learn how to serve the people in this population who are deserving and need to be served at a price our taxpayers can afford, the entire budget will be the Medicaid program," he said. "We cannot raise taxes enough to fund the existing program. This is extremely troubling to me about the future of the state. "
Once the House passes its version of the budget, five members of the House and five members of the Senate will meet in a conference committee to work out the difference between the chambers. Once a compromise is reached, each body will vote on a conference committee report which will essentially be the compromise budget bill. If approved by both chambers, that budget will be submitted to the Governor for his signature.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 25 at 2 p.m.