WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES BUDGET BILL
(Austin) — The Senate approved its version of the state budget this week, one that would spend $211 billion in state and federal money over the next two years. That's an increase of three-and-a-half percent over the last biennial budget, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson said it follows the same conservative principles that led to today's strong Texas economy. "This is a budget that will keep our state strong, prosperous and compassionate," said Nelson.
The Senate budget meets several priorities laid out by state leadership over the session. In his State of the State address in February, Governor Greg Abbott told legislators he would not accept any budget that didn't include significant tax cuts. The Senate budget bill earmarks nearly four-and-a-half billion dollars to pay for franchise and property tax cuts. Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have also strongly supported increased border security spending, and the budget bill would pay for that at unprecedented levels, sending $811 million to DPS and other agencies to cover manpower, training and equipment for border security efforts. Other winners in the budget include the Department of Family and Protective Services, which gets an eleven percent funding boost to increase early intervention and prevention programs to combat child abuse, and mental and women's health services, which get $259 million and $50 million more, respectively, than last biennium.
The next step in the budget process is the appointment of a conference committee to work with the House to resolve differences with its version of the budget. While both versions are fairly close in spending amounts, one major difference between the chambers' spending plans comes from how each would cut taxes. While the Senate wants to reduce property taxes, the House is interested in a sales tax cut. Once budget conferees come up with a final consensus budget, it will be presented to both bodies for final approval.
Also this week, the Senate passed a bill that would begin a limited consolidation of state health services agencies. While the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that all five state health agencies be merged, an investigation into the Health and Human Services Commission found serious problems with contracting practices at the agency. The investigators recommended that the agency consolidation be put on hold, but the bill passed Wednesday would still include some consolidation. Bill author Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound said that the current system contains too much overlap, too much inefficiency, and not enough quality of service for clients. "Our number one goal with this realignment is to make it easier for citizens to navigate what is currently a broken system that no longer reflects the reality of how we deliver services," said Nelson.
Her bill, SB 200, would bring the Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services into the HHSC over the next two years. The commission would also absorb client services from the Department of State Health Services, though that agency would remain a separate entity focused on public health needs. The Department of Family and Protective Services would also remain independent. The bill creates a legislative oversight committee to monitor the consolidation, and merges the regulatory functions currently spread across agencies.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 20 at 2 p.m.