WEEK IN REVIEW
BUDGET, TAX DEALS MOVE FORWARD
(Austin) — With just over a week to go in the session, critical state financial bills are moving toward completion. Late Thursday, the legislative panel charged with resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget voted out a completed document. At the same time, Governor Greg Abbott announced that he, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Strauss had reached a final deal on $3.8 billion in tax cuts for the next two years. "Texas leaders have come together to advance conservative principles that will improve the lives of Texans and continue to make Texas the model for doing business," Abbott said in a press release from his office.
The budget deal reached last night represents a compromise between the two chambers on spending for the upcoming biennium. It would appropriate around $210 billion, with more money going to border security and public education. It also ends diversions of transportation funds to other areas of the budget. Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, who led the budget negotiations on behalf of her chamber, said the budget approved by the conference committee was something the Senate can be proud of. "We had a few broad goals. We all obviously wanted to continue with our economic success, we wanted to ensure that we are investing in our education system, we wanted to make sure that we addressed our transportation needs, our border security issues were very important to us and we wanted to give back a bit of our excess revenue and send it back to the taxpayers that earned it," she said. "We have done all of those things and then some."
The next step for the budget process is a final vote before both chambers to adopt the conference committee document. After that, it heads to the Governor to be signed into law.
Soon after the conference committee finished its business, the Governor released a statement announcing a deal reached between House and Senate negotiators to cut taxes by $3.8 billion. The state franchise tax would be reduced by 25 percent and the homestead exemption on property taxes will be upped by $10,000. In the statement, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a strong advocate for property tax cuts all session long, called the deal "a major achievement." "I believe when this session concludes it will be one of the most, if not the most, productive legislative sessions in the history of the Texas Senate and the entire legislature," he said.
Friday, the Senate Finance Committee approved a measure that will spend almost a quarter of a billion dollars on unanticipated needs for the current biennium. Lawmakers have to look two years into the future when writing the budget, and unexpected costs and savings almost always crop up. Every session the Legislature passes a supplemental budget to meet those surprise needs and windfalls. This year the big item on the budget was $768 million to cover healthcare costs for retired teachers. While a permanent fix for the state's pension plan wasn't reached in the session, Southside Place Senator Joan Huffman said this one-time appropriation will hopefully give lawmakers time to find a permanent fix before next session. Huffman is currently shepherding a bill through the process to create an interim committee dealing with TRS healthcare and generate a plan to make it solvent for lawmakers to consider when the Legislature reconvenes in 2017. "This is not going to be a one day hearing, This is going to be a real dig-down to solve this problem," she said.
The Senate will reconvene Sunday, May 24 at 6 p.m.