Continuing to inch closer to the Legislature’s most important act – the making of a state budget for the next fiscal biennium – the Senate Finance Committee approved CSSB 1 on March 13.
Some 865 pages in length, the budget tops out at $195 billion, the sum of $94 billion in general appropriations plus federal and dedicated funds. The bill will be debated on the Senate floor this week, and if passed, the document’s next stop will be the House Committee on Appropriations.
As explained by the Senate news service, once the Senate version of the budget moves over to the House for consideration, “the House will substitute its version of the budget, House Bill 1, for SB 1, and the Senate will do the same with its budget plan when it receives HB 1 from the House. At that point, the speaker will appoint five House members and the lieutenant governor will appoint five senators to meet together in a conference committee. These members will hammer out the differences between the two versions of the budget. Each chamber will vote on the compromised budget bill, and if approved, that bill goes to the governor’s desk for him to sign into law.”
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said CSSB 1 “reflects our commitment to balancing a fiscally conservative budget without raising taxes and giving your priorities the resources they need to continue building a better future for Texas. … “The increase in funding for programs, including public education and mental health, is within the constitutional spending limit and below the rate of population and inflation growth. Since the current Medicaid program is broken,” Dewhurst said, “I am pleased that the budget includes a rider that ensures the Health and Human Services Commission would have to seek legislative approval before reforming our Medicaid program, and ensures any proposed changes are consistent with our conservative principles and lowering taxes.”
MEDICAID PATCH PASSES
House Bill 10, legislation providing emergency supplemental appropriations to fund Medicaid through Aug. 31, took effect immediately when signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on March 13.
“This bill makes good on the 82nd Legislature’s obligation to provide additional appropriations for these agencies this session, and also provides the funds needed to undo the deferral of payments to Texas school districts through the Foundation School Program,” Perry said. “While this bill is necessary to the continued operations of these essential services, this session gives us an opportunity to hit the reset button, put an end to budgetary tricks and pay now what is due now. Truth in budgeting is good fiscal practice and makes for good government.”
HB 10, which appropriates some $6.6 billion, plugs a hole created by budget cuts passed by the Legislature in 2011 to head off a projected budget shortfall then estimated at more than $20 billion.
Of the $6.5 billion, about $5 billion goes to the Health and Human Services Commission for Medicaid acute care, about $1.5 billion goes to the Department of Aging and Disability Services for Medicaid long-term care and $187 million goes to the Health and Human Services Commission for the CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).
HB 10 also steers $630 million to the Texas Education Agency to administer the Foundation School Program and funds a $1.75 billion installment payment to the education agency at the end of the fiscal year (Aug. 31) to pay the Foundation School Fund entitlement – the primary source of state funding for Texas school districts. The program, as stated by the education agency, is meant to ensure that all school districts, regardless of property wealth, receive “substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort.”
SEN. GARCIA TAKES OFFICE
New state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, received her official full Senate welcome March 11.
Garcia won a March 2 special runoff election to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, who died Oct. 16. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst appointed Garcia to the body’s Government Organization, Intergovernmental Relations, Jurisprudence and Nominations committees.
An attorney and a native of South Texas, Garcia served as presiding judge for the Houston Municipal System for an unprecedented five terms under two mayors. She also has served in elective office as city controller and as a Harris County commissioner.
Veteran capital correspondent and legislative analyst Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.