SENATE PASSES BILLS TO TRUE UP BUDGET
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved three bills Tuesday aimed at dealing with shortfalls and accounting shifts from last session caused by the economic downturn. In 2011, State Comptroller Susan Combs released a dismal revenue estimate, one that reflected the equally dismal state of the U.S. economy. Combs told lawmakers that they had $27 billion less to work with than the previous session. Legislators debated long and hard about how to balance the budget, and in addition to a number of cuts to state services, they also used some accounting techniques to push some costs into the next biennium and bring revenue forward into the current budget. Against expectations, Texas weathered the economic storm very well, and brought in billions more than was anticipated by the Comptroller in January 2011. The bills passed Tuesday reverse these accounting techniques as well as add billions to current health and human services funding.
House Bill 10, passed two weeks ago by the House of Representatives, would allocate $6.6 billion in current general revenue to cover Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program funding through the end of the biennium. Finance Committee Chair Senator Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, who carried this bill in the Senate, told colleagues that state services depended on this money. "If we don't pass this bill, Health and Human services and the other agencies within are likely to run out of cash before the current biennium is up," he said. "I don't think any of us want to risk that happening." This bill was passed unanimously and will now go to the Governor's desk.
|Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan lays out one of three bills passed Tuesday aimed at fixing budget measures passed last session under threat of economic recession.|
The second bill passed today reverses a decision made last session that would've pushed a final payment from the state's Permanent School Fund to school districts into FY 2014, instead of the current fiscal year. Each month the state divides almost $2 billion between districts to pay for operational costs. Last session, budget writers chose to only make 23 payments over the 2012-2013 biennium rather than the full 24, pushing $1.75 billion off last session's budget. SB 753, also by Williams, reversed that, and if the bill becomes law, the state will make that final payment in the final month of FY 2013.
The third and final bill passed by the Senate Tuesday reverses a part of last session's budget that would have collected a number of state taxes early, so they appeared on the FY 2013 balance sheet rather than FY 2014. These included alcoholic beverage taxes, gas taxes and limited sales and use taxes. Again, more revenue from the economic recovery means the state doesn't have to bring money into this fiscal year, so the Senate unanimously passed SB 559, by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, which would push those collections back to where they belong, in the next fiscal year. That bill is going to reduce funds available for this fiscal year by $864 million, but will mean $767 million more in revenue for fiscal year 2014.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 6 at 10 a.m., and will meet in Joint Session with the House of Representatives to hear the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court deliver the State of the Judiciary speech in the House Chamber at 11 a.m.