WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES '24-'25 BUDGET
(AUSTIN) — With record revenues and an unprecedented treasury surplus, the Senate approved a budget on Monday that contains $16.5 billion in tax relief and addresses a number of long-standing issues affecting the state. Budget author and Finance Committee chair Senator Joan Huffman of Houston said the state's rosy financial situation means it can make smart investments that improve services now and in the future. "This is a once in a generation opportunity to address long standing needs, pay down debts, make strategic investment in our state's infrastructure and historic sites, and more importantly, give money back to the taxpayers," she said. In all, the Senate plan would spend $308 billion in state and federal funds on services through the next two years.
In addition to the record property tax cuts, achieved through raising the homestead exemption, tax rate compression, and business tax exemptions, the bill also increases public education funding by 21 percent. It includes a five percent across-the-board pay raise for all state employees, and pays for teacher pay raises set out in Senate Bill 9. It also funds the first cost of living adjustment for retired teachers since 2013. Other highlights include $4.6 billion for border security, $500 million for rural law enforcement agencies, and $2 billion to create a new research endowment fund for state universities.
Now, five members from the Senate and five from the House will come together and work on a compromise plan. The major issue facing conferees will be how to deliver billions in tax cuts. While the House plan would lower the cap on appraisal growth, the Senate plan would expand the homestead tax exemption. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has said that he doesn't think the appraisal cap approach does enough for the 40 percent of Texas homeowners aged 65 or older, who already have their property tax growth capped under existing state law. Members have less than 40 days to figure out a plan that satisfies leadership in both chambers.
Also this week, the Senate passed two major bills that will affect how state universities hire faculty. The first, SB 17 by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would end university-sponsored diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Creighton said that data shows these programs don't work. "DEI programs have been shown to be exclusive, shown to be ineffective, and have been shown to be politically charged and many of these programs have been weaponized to compel speech rather than protecting free speech," said Creighton. The second, SB 18, also by Creighton, would end the practice of tenure at state universities.
Finally this week, the Senate passed its comprehensive school safety bill aimed at centralizing authority for school emergency planning and increasing inspections and funding for security. SB 11, by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols, would give schools more money to improve school security. Currently, the state gives every district about $9 per student to spend on safety costs. "This is insufficient for our small and medium-sized sized schools," said Nichols. "Some of our smallest districts are only getting about $1,000 a year for the whole district for safety, and this forces schools to use funds to improve school safety that would've been spent in classrooms." The bill would instead give security funds in block amounts, up to $16,800 per campus, depending on district size. It would create a dedicated office of school safety within the Texas Education Agency and give that department authority over all district safety plans. Under the bill, every campus in the state would be annually inspected to ensure compliance with safety plans and be subject to testing how easy it is for a stranger to gain access. Other provisions shorten the period before a chronically absent student is referred to truancy court, require that any violent incident on campus be reported to parents, and require districts to share behavioral health assessments and disciplinary records for new or transferring students.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 24, at 11 a.m.