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Texas House approves $217 billion budget

🕐 3 min read

May 27, 2017

The Texas House voted Saturday evening to approve a $217 billion, two-year budget that would boost funding for the state’s beleaguered child welfare agency, increase the number of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and avoid serious reforms to the state’s much-criticized school finance system. The final vote was 135-14. 

The Texas Senate was still debating the bill but was expected to vote on it soon. 

Scrounging for cash in a tight-fisted legislative session, budget leaders from both chambers agreed to a compromise that settled a bitter debate over how to finance the state budget. The two-year budget is shored up by both $1 billion taken from the state’s savings account, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, and an accounting trick that would use nearly $2 billion from a pot of funding intended for highway projects. The House had favored tapping the Rainy Day Fund and leaving the transportation funding alone. The Senate had taken the opposite position. 

“The budget today is a product of what is a true compromise” between the Texas House and Senate, said state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, the lower chamber’s lead budget writer. The two legislative chambers originally unveiled budgets that were nearly $8 billion apart. 

Across the Capitol, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, laid out the budget compromise to the upper chamber at the same time. 

“This budget is smart. This budget is compassionate. It makes huge advances in several of our priority areas,” Nelson said. 

The Texas House voted 135 to 14 for the compromise proposal, which was skimpier than the original budget draft that the chamber voted out in April. The final version won the approval of Tea Party Republicans who had originally opposed the House version, while losing the support of almost one-third of the chamber’s Democrats. 

The budget includes funding to cover growing enrollment at public schools, but it reduces state funding for schools by about $1.1 billion. That funding is offset primarily by growth in local property taxes. 

Lawmakers set aside more than $500 million in additional funds for the state’s child welfare system, which has lately faced a shortage of foster homes and front-line Child Protective Services workers. In addition, lawmakers used funding from the Rainy Day Fund to make repairs to various state buildings including mental hospitals, state-supported living centers for people with disabilities, and the historic Alamo. 

State lawmakers had less money at their discretion this year in crafting the next two-year budget. By cutting taxes in 2015, the Legislature reduced state revenue available to them for this session by about $4 billion. Lawmakers also dedicated nearly $5 billion that year to highways — a move that voters later approved in a statewide election — which left fewer dollars for priorities like health care and education. 

In addition, a moderately sluggish economy slowed revenue growth, leaving the state’s coffers emptier than state officials had projected. 

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/05/27/texas-legiature-votes-217-billion-budget/.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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