Senate and House Conferees Reach Budget Agreement
Austin - Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, surrounded by the Senate members of the joint conference committee on the appropriations bill, announced today that an agreement has been reached on a budget for the next two years that he says does not raise taxes, protects essential services, and will keep the economy growing.
Dewhurst called this one of the toughest sessions since the end of World War II because of the almost $10 billion dollar revenue shortfall faced by the state. He said that although cuts were made, they were only in non-essential areas.
Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, agreed that it was the most difficult legislative challenge he has ever faced. Despite the shortfall and a disagreement over the weekend concerning funding for university health science centers, the committee managed to accomplish what he called "an amazing feat."
Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the health and human services article is significantly better under the committee's budget than in the Senate's version.
Zaffirini announced that eligibility for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been maintained at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, but that benefits have been reduced to the federal minimum.
She said that under the new appropriations bill, the functional needs score to determine if the impairment is severe enough to qualify them for community care services is restored to twenty-four on a sixty-point functional needs assessment.
"Public education is a winner in this budget," said Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock. He explained that the agreed-on budget will be able to sustain growth in the public schools, fund the purchase of textbooks for the upcoming year, and restore the teacher retirement insurance, TRS-Care.
Bryan Senator Steve Ogden declared that funding for four-year institutions is within one percent of the funding they received in the last budget, within three and a half percent for community colleges and within four percent for health-related institutions.
Houston Senator John Whitmire says the new appropriations bill provides for effective public safety, despite the necessity of cutting $300 million and nearly 1,000 employees from the Department of Criminal Justice. The proposed budget would continue to provide for effective punishment, rehabilitation and parole and probation provisions, said Whitmire.
Bivins warned that a number of bills still need to be passed in order to balance the budget.
He also explained that the $1.3 billion in aid allotted to Texas in a federal bill still awaiting the president's signature will be put in a contingency fund to the state comptroller to certify the budget before it can be sent to the governor for final approval.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, May 27, 2003, at 8:00 a.m. to consider bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar and will then meet for session at 10:00 a.m.