WEEK IN REVIEW
BASE BUDGET BILL FILED IN SENATE
(AUSTIN) — Texas would spend slightly more over the next two years than it did in the last biennium under both the Senate and House budget plans filed Thursday — including fully funding the increases in public education spending approved last session. "SB 1 funds essential services, keeps up with growth and meets our obligations to vulnerable citizens," Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, who will lead the Senate's appropriations effort, said in a statement. In all, the Senate's first draft would spend $119.7 billion through 2023, representing about four percent growth over last biennium, but still well within constitutional spending limits, said Nelson. It also includes five percent across-the-board cuts for most non-education and non-public safety related state agencies.
Highlights from the Senate plan includes $8 billion for mental healthcare programs across two dozen state agencies, more money for women's healthcare, and nearly $40 million to fortify security at the state Capitol building. It includes $3.1 billion to pay for enrollment growth in public education, and $5 billion to cover reforms and growth in the Teacher Retirement System. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a statement praising the plan. "I want to thank Senate Finance Chair Nelson and the Senate Finance Committee who have worked tirelessly with our office for months. As always, Senator Nelson has done outstanding work," he said. Appointed chair of Finance by Patrick when he was elected as Lt. Governor in 2014, this session will mark Nelson's fourth as lead budget author for the Senate.
There is still much work to be done before a final bill reaches the Governor's desk. Nelson said in her statement that the bill filed this week represents only a starting point. "We have many tools available to balance this budget, which will require us to re-establish our priorities, stretch every dollar and find more efficient ways to deliver services".
Beginning in February, the Senate Finance Committee will hold daily hearings on agency budgets. Directors from each state agency will appear before the panel to explain their appropriations requests, and then members will draw up a final appropriations bill to present to the full Senate. In the past, this typically happens around the end of March, but the pandemic has introduced considerable uncertainty into the normal legislative timeline. After it is approved by the Senate, five Senators will join five members of the House to hammer out any differences between the two chambers' plans for spending before a final product is presented to each for a final up-or-down vote. In terms of total state revenue spending, both chambers are very close in their initial drafts, with the House plan coming in at just $60 million more than the Senate. As it is the only bill that must pass in any given legislative session, lawmakers will have until the legislature adjourns on May 31 to agree on a final budget.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 26 at 3 p.m.