LEGISLATURE PASSES KEY BUDGET MEASURES
(AUSTIN) — On Wednesday, both chambers approved measures critical to the budget deal worked out last week. These pieces are the means for increasing funding for education and funding the state water plan, and their passage moves the state closer to a final budget for the next two years. The Senate's chief budget negotiator, Finance Chairman Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, told colleagues that these bills will serve the state well. "The result of these two bills together is a good conservative budget, and something that we can all be proud of," he said.
Budget negotiations have been tense over the last week, with many around the Capitol wondering if all the different interests could come together to reach an agreement before the session ends on Monday. The Senate did its part by passing HB 1025, which includes more money for education and water infrastructure. HB 1025, will put about $200 million in new money into public education. Combined with the education funding increases already in the budget bill, that works out to between $80 and $400 more per student in nearly every district in the state, which Williams said may be an unprecedented increase. "This is the highest that I recall we've ever done, so it's something I think we can all feel good about," he said.
The education funding increase was praised by Senators from both parties. "I want to congratulate you on the incredible work product that is before us on our desks today," Fort Worth Senator Wendy Davis told Williams on the floor. Davis filibustered the state budget last session because she opposed the cuts to public education in the 2012-2013 budget.
HB 1025 would also appropriate $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to the state water plan, the first time that the Legislature would fund the plan since it was first proposed in 1997. But it was up to the House to create the account to hold that money, in the form of Senate Joint Resolution 1. This bill was passed by an overwhelming majority, 130 yeas to 16 nays. That measure would put a question on the November ballot, asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment to create the state water fund. Should that measure pass, then the $2 billion would go into the fund and be used to pay for regional water infrastructure.
The state budget isn't quite a done deal. HB 1025 must still be referred to a conference committee. It is possible the House could vote to simply concur in the significant changes made to the bill by the Senate, but it is more likely they will request the appointment of a committee to develop compromise language. The conference committee report on SB 1, which is the state budget bill for the next biennium, has already been approved by its conference committee, but each chamber must approve the report before it can go to the governor for approval.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 23 at 1:30 p.m.