House Budget Bill Comes Out of Committee (TX)
March 30, 2011
AUSTIN — A state budget proposal to carve $23 billion from current two-year spending — slashing education and Medicaid reimbursement rates — represents as much as many House Republicans are willing to spend, but less than Senators may be willing to approve, key lawmakers said Wednesday.
The bare-bones measure cleared the House Appropriations Com mittee Wednesday.
"It’s a budget that reflects the money we have," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. "There’s a lot of members of the House that (believe) this is as far as we can go. They feel like they were elected to make cuts, and this accurately reflects what their constituents want."
The proposal, however, does not appear to have enough support — even among Senate Republicans — to pass that chamber, where senators are searching for non-tax revenue, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Much at stake
Their assessments frame a fight whose stakes include the size of public school classes, school district jobs, nursing homes’ ability to operate, college students’ financial aid, home health care services for fragile Texans and thousands of state employees’ jobs.
GOP leaders — with a 101 super-majority in the 150-member House and a 19-12 Senate majority — have said a shortfall estimated at $15 billion to $27 billion in state general-revenue spending over the next two years will be met without new taxes. The spending total determines the amount of federal aid distributed on a matching basis.
House Bill 1 was approved by the Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote of 18-7, with two Democrats absent. It would spend $164.5 billion in state and federal funds through the next two years, a cut of nearly $23 billion, or 12.3 percent, from the current two-year budget.
The bill is expected to reach the full House on April 1.
‘Teetering edge of a hole’< ;br />
Democrats said Wednesday’s bill would shortchange Texas now and in the future.
"Not a single person showed up in our committee and asked us to eliminate pre-K grants for our youngest schoolchildren and financial aid for college freshmen, but that’s what this budget does," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who voted against the bill. "Prior generations of Texans have invested in educating children in our state, but this generation will drop the torch if this budget passes."
The bill "devastates the education system and comes dangerously close to dismantling our health and human services infrastructure," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "This budget will push Texas to the teetering edge of a hole which may take us decades to crawl out of."
Outnumbered House Democrats lack the numbers to force change, and the chamber includes a new crop of Republicans who ran on campaigns pledging limited government. In the 31-member Senate, the 12 Democrats have a voice because it generally takes a two-thirds vote to bring up legislation.
HB1 takes into account a dip into the state’s rainy-day fund to help cover a current-year budget deficit that otherwise would drain money from future spending. Gov. Rick Perry last week agreed to bless the limited rainy-day expenditure, which would require a three-fifths vote of lawmakers.
The bill still would leave Medicaid short an estimated $6 billion of the amount needed to fund caseloads through the next two years, said Pitts and his staff. It would cut Medicaid reimbursement rates at a level that nursing homes say would force closures, and cut funding for in-home s ervices, as well.
The measure also would leave public schools short about $8 billion of the amount they would get under current funding formulas to cover an influx of new students.
Pitts said he would expect "at least" 8,000 state government employee layoffs if the proposed measure were implemented.
Senators are working on a budget proposal that is expected to contain more spending for education and human services, but still are looking for ways to fund it.
No more rainy-day funds
Pitts said he does not think he can get support to spend more from the rainy-day fund than the $3.2 billion maximum that Perry OK’d. The fund is expected to have $9.4 billion. Pitts said he has encountered resistance even when asking about deferring state payments, a move used by lawmakers during a 2003 budget shortfall to push expenses into the next budget period and free up funds.
"The Senate’s going to have to come way down. That’s the message that I give to every senator that’ll listen, and the lieutenant governor," he said.
Freshman Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he is interested in seeing what comes from a Senate panel looking to identify non-tax revenue.
"The unemployment rate is still high. The economy is still tight. People are losing their jobs, and trying to get back to work. People are still struggling," Huberty said. "We’re doing what we can right now to meet our expenses with our revenues. I think that’s what people expect us to do."