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Finance Committee Completes Its Proposed Texas Budget

FinanceCommittee2017.jpg
Ryan E. Poppe
/
Texas Public Radio
The Finance Committee finishes its budget on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Child Protective Services would get more money but public schools and higher education would get less under a state budget that is expected to be approved by the full Senate next week.

In their proposed budget for the next two years, Senate budget writers found additional money for mental health and Child Protective Services, CPS.  A federal judge has said CPS case workers are handling too many foster child cases and there is a shortage of qualified foster care homes.

 

But the Senate plan would deal higher education a big blow with cuts of 6 percent or more in the money that goes to public colleges and universities.  There’s also less state money for public schools. But Jane Nelson, the Senate’s Finance Chair, says an increase in local property values and taxes would make up for that.

 

“We are fully funding the foundation schools program and increasing, just based on student growth by funding for public education by $2.6 billion," Nelson says.

 

Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, says for more than a decade state legislators have increasingly pushed the funding of public education onto local school districts supported by property taxes.

 

“And so what has happened because of the state shrinking down because of tough budgets, its increased the pressure on the local taxpayer that much more.  And so you add on top of that unfunded mandates and other things and that’s why school districts are feeling the pressure that they are feeling," Menendez says.

 

In writing the next two-year budget lawmakers have to fill a gap of several billion dollars just to continue current services.  One of the ways Senate budget writers would do that is to delay a $2.5 billion payment for transportation into the next budget cycle.  House Speaker Joe Straus called that Enron-style accounting.

 

“Counting money twice in order to balance a budget is not a good idea, this is the Texas Legislature, not Enron, now I’m not interested in cooking the books just so we can avoid a vote on the Rainy Day Fund, gimmickry is not going to get us out of this one," Straus says.

 

Straus has proposed closing the budget gap a different way- by paying for priorities like education and mental health with some of the $12 billion that has accumulated in the state’s Rainy Day savings account.  The Senate doesn’t want to do that.  And that will lead to a showdown once the full Senate and the House adopt budgets that will have to be reconciled.

The $106 billion proposal is getting a cold reception from the Texas House Speaker who has different priorities and who claims the Senate is “cooking the books.”

 

The Complete Budget Document: