WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES BUDGET BILL
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved its version of the state budget on Wednesday, one that would spend $95 billion in general state revenue in 2014 and 2015. The passage marks the end of a months-long process of hearings, workgroups and debate about where to spend the more than $100 billion in state revenue projected for the next biennium. The budget process, however, is far from over. The House passed its version of the budget out of committee on Thursday, and the two chambers must reconcile their differences before the bill finds its way to Governor Rick Perry's desk.
This session's budget would spend $7 billion in general revenue more than the last biennial budget, thanks to a robust Texas economy and better-than-expected earnings for the last two years. After the budget cuts of last session, this budget would put more money into public and higher education, women's health programs, wildfire response and mental health.
The next step in the budget process will be a conference committee comprised of five House members and five Senators. These lawmakers will come together to work out the differences between the two versions of the budget. Then they will take a final proposal back to their respective chambers, where a simple majority vote would accept the changes and send the bill on to the Governor.
The Senate also passed a bill this week that would impose term limits on statewide elected officials, including the Governor and Lt. Governor. SJR 13, by Senator Kevin Eltife of Tyler, would let voters decide whether or not to limit statewide officials to two consecutive terms. Officials could serve more terms nonconsecutively and currently elected officials wouldn't have terms served before January 1, 2014 count against them. This measure takes the form of a constitutional amendment; first it must win two-thirds approval in both chambers and then be placed on the November ballot for voters. If it passes there, it is added to the Texas Constitution. With only four dissenters in the Senate, the bill easily met the threshold there, and now goes to the House for its approval.
Monday the Senate Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters heard a proposal to increase transparency for local government debt and spending. SB 14, by Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, would require government entities with taxing authority to publish revenue and spending on their public websites. It would require that bond and other debt ballot measures explain, on the ballot, how much debt the bond issuer already carries and how much the new debt could increase spending costs. Also, special tax districts would have to perform periodic self-evaluations to determine if their taxing authority remains necessary. That bill remains pending before the subcommittee.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 25 at 2 p.m.