CHRIS TOMLINSON,Associated Press PAUL J. WEBER,Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers reached a deal Friday on a two-year spending plan that would restore $3.93 billion to public schools and clear the way for taking $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund for water projects, the leader of House Democrats said.
Republicans needed Democratic votes to set up the State Water Infrastructure Fund, but the minority party wanted to boost spending on public education by $4 billion. The Republican-controlled Legislature cut $5.4 billion from schools in 2011.
“We have a tentative commitment that we have a deal,” Davis said. “I think people are pleased. They’ve been working very hard to forge relationships and do some good for Texas.”
In the deal, the state would add $3.4 billion to public education spending and put $530 million toward schools’ contribution to the Teacher Retirement System. All of the money would be in the Foundation School Program, and therefore exempt from a line item veto by Gov. Rick Perry, Davis said. But the House and Senate must still vote on the measure.
Republican lawmakers did not immediately comment, but the deal is similar to one announced by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst late Thursday night. Conservative Republicans had complained the deal would spend too much on schools, while Democrats wanted more.
“Don’t couch this as an ‘us and them.’ This is for Texas,” Davis said.
The plan marks the biggest giveback to schools on the bargaining table at any point during this 140-day legislative session, where time and money are running out. Lawmakers only have one full week remaining at the Capitol to make this deal and numbers work.
Late Thursday night, Dewhurst said the deal would also spell out at least $1 billion in tax relief.
“It’s a package deal,” Dewhurst said.
Republicans stand to score a political victory in the compromise. Sen. Tommy Williams, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the deal would not bust the state spending cap that House negotiators were willing to consider as talks stalled this month after the Senate deemed it forbidden.
Perry has said he wanted $1.8 billion in tax cuts and a new $2 billion water fund. It was not immediately clear if he would accept the compromise. The Legislature adjourns May 27, but Perry said he would keep lawmakers working into June if they didn’t deliver.
Democrats have 55 votes in the 150-person House. Without their support, the House cannot reach the two-thirds threshold necessary to draw $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund in order to jump-start an aggressive, bipartisan plan for new water projects across the drought-parched state.