SENATE VOTES TO CLOSE CURRENT BUDGET GAP
(AUSTIN) — The Senate unanimously voted on Wednesday night to approve two measures that would cover the $3.9 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year. The budget approved in 2009 by the 81st Legislature came up nearly $4 billion short in paying for state costs in 2011, requiring action by the current Legislature to pay for state obligations. HB 4 and HB 275, would combine with the general appropriations act, HB 1, and SB 1811, a bill to generate additional revenue for next biennium, to balance the state budget through 2013. "When it's all said and done, we will have a balanced budget for the state of Texas," said chief budget writer Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan.
The bills passed would use part of the state's economic stabilization fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, to meet current obligations. Most of the $3.1 billion taken from the RDF, $550 million, would go to the Permanent School Fund to cover education costs. It would also appropriate money for the 2012-2013 budget, more than $200 million going into the operating budgets of state health science centers. According to Ogden, this money would halve the cuts to health science centers proposed in the original base budget.
Ogden said that the provisions in HB 4 were carefully negotiated with the House, and House leadership agreed to accept the amendments made in the Senate.
Another bill passed Wednesday would create the strongest oversight over the practice of well fracturing in the nation, according to the bill's author. Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser said his bill would move Texas to the front of the pack in dealing with the potential health problems associated with the drilling practice.
In order to increase production from some oil and gas wells, a chemical cocktail is pumped down the well head to crack and fracture the mineral strata thousands of feet below the surface. This practice of fracturing, commonly called fracking, raises concerns among public health advocates who worry the chemicals pumped into the wells could end up in ground water. Other states have already placed a moratorium on well fracking while they study the potential ramifications.
The bill approved by the Senate would require companies to reveal exactly what harmful chemicals are being pumped into the ground in the fracking process. The bill provides certain protections against proprietary information where the exact composition of non-harmful chemicals used in the process are considered a trade secret. Any carcinogens or other harmful chemicals must be disclosed. This bill now heads to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 26 at 1:30 p.m.