State of Texas: Budget battle just beginning

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Early Friday morning, the Texas House approved a budget plan for the next two years.  But the budget battle is just beginning.  Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau Chief Mike Ward covered the nearly 16 hour debate that led to the final vote.  “Now the real work starts,” Ward said.

The budget now goes to conference, where five members from the House and five from the Senate go through the budget line-by-line to resolve differences.  At the end, they’ll develop the final budget for both the full House and full Senate to consider.  In order for a budget to pass, both chambers have to approve exactly the same document.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see what shakes out,” said Jim Malewitz, an investigative reporter for The Texas Tribune.  “The House sent some pretty strong messages on things like school choice, overwhelmingly saying no to that, and that’s something that the Senate really backs.” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick publicly called on the House to vote on school choice.  “He’s not going to be happy,” Ward said of the result.

House lawmakers also likely made Governor Greg Abbott unhappy.  The House budget takes $43 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund.  Abbott championed the program, which pays incentives to encourage economic development in Texas.  The House plan instead spends the money on Child Protective Services and therapy services for disabled children.

“The key of negotiations is how to pay for it,” Ward said, looking ahead at a likely point of conflict in the conference. “We use the Economic Stabilization Fund, $2.5 billion dollars,” Appropriations chair Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) said. “The Senate has utilized a maneuver with the state highway funds in order to fund that two-and-a-half billion dollars.” The Economic Stabilization Fund is more commonly known as the state’s Rainy Day Fund.  “It’s basically the fund we have when times are rough,” Malewitz explained. There is strong opposition to tapping into the fund.  Ward says the differences could be tough for the committee to reconcile. “Whether you take money from the Rainy Day Fund, whether you don’t, whether you do some accounting tricks,” Ward said.  “That’s what’ll be the key on negotiation.”

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