Senate Approves Appropriations Bill for Next Biennium
Austin - The Senate today passed its version of the appropriations bill for the 2004-05 biennium following more than five hours of debate.
Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, introduced the Senate Committee substitute to House Bill (HB) 1, calling it the product of an excruciating process. The grand total of all funds is $117.7 million, with $58.7 from general revenue funds. "The bottom line of this bill is...it reduces non-core spending and focuses available revenues on core functions of government," said Bivins.
Bivins explained that the bill relies on a whole package of legislation waiting approval. HB 1 is dependent on legislation that would change the point of collection for motor fuels tax, move the Permanent School Fund to a total return investment strategy, delay certain payments, and close loopholes in the Franchise Tax and the property tax system to bring in an estimated $5.8 billion in revenue. These additional state resources will be used for the Finance Committee's three priorities of Education, Health and Human Services programs, and Criminal Justice and Public Safety programs.
Bivins explained that the Senate Finance Committee was divided into workgroups and each was assigned an article to consider. The committee generally adopted the recommendations brought forth by the workgroups. The Senators who headed workgroups of major articles presented their recommendations to the Chamber.
Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, head of the workgroup on Article II, explained that the committee voted on a 5.9 percent increase in funding for Health and Human Services programs, from $37.8 million last biennium to $40 million this fiscal year 2004-05. This article consists of twelve state agencies and makes up one-third of state spending.
Nelson said that the committee was able to maintain the income eligibility of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $36,200 a year for a family of four, for the Children's Health Insurance Program. The committee approved of changing the policy from twelve months of continuous eligibility to six, implementing a 90-day waiting period, implementing a Preferred Drug List and Prior Authorization, increasing cost sharing, and including only federally required benefits. By switching to only federally required benefits, CHIP would exclude dental, chiropractic, mental health, substance abuse, speech/physical therapy, vision and hearing, and home health and hospice services.
No changes were made to Medicaid income eligibility for children, who make up approximately seventy percent of the Medicaid population, and long term care clients in an institution. Nelson's workgroup recommended reducing the provider reimbursement rate to 96.5%
The Finance Committee also adopted the workgroup's recommendation changing the functional eligibility score required to be eligible for community care entitlement or state programs from 29 to 26. This means a person must have an increased degree of difficulty with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, getting out of bed, etc. The bill also includes funding for all mental health and mental retardation state hospitals and state schools.
Plano Senator Florence Shapiro presented the Public Education article, which received approximately $23.6 billion in funding from state general revenue, down from last biennium's $25.9 billion . Shapiro said that the committee voted to fully fund the Foundation School program for enrollment growth and equity with $17.2 billion in general revenue funds and $2.4 billion in recaptured funds from local property tax collections.
Higher education recommendations were laid out by Dallas Senator Royce West. General Revenue funding for higher education is $10.1 billion and there is a reduction of 1.3% in all funds.
Houston Senator John Whitmire spearheaded the workgroup on Article V, Public Safety and Criminal Justice. A general revenue expenditure of $6.68 billion was recommended for this article. Full funding of correctional security operations and for directly supervising felony offenders was recommended. The committee recommendations do not eliminate substance abuse treatment programs and accommodate the growing prison population by increasing capacity.
Before HB 1 was put to a final vote, several Senators admitted that they had reservations about the bill, but would vote for it anyway. Houston Senator John Whitmire said that he will vote for it because there is no good alternative. The Chamber listened attentively as Mount Pleasant Senator Bill Ratliff said that he will vote for the bill, but with a very heavy heart, because it is the best that can be done in the absence of additional funding, which he believes could have been obtained if the Senate had stood together and fought for it.
The bill passed out of the Senate with a 26-5 vote. The five Senators in opposition were Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. HB 1 will now go before a conference committee.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 30, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.