June 30, 2021
Every legislative session is different. With such a big state, we never know what challenges we will have to address. This past session, addressing the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on our economy, our schools, our healthcare system, and our workforce was a priority. Just as important was addressing the serious shortfalls in the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' management of our electricity grid during Winter Storm Uri. It was equally important that we passed a state budget that takes care of the needs of our state and our communities to help us recover from these challenges.
The state's $248 billion budget for the next two years fully funds the state's commitment to the public education investments made by HB 3 during the 2019 session. Coming into this session, there was concern that the pandemic and the declines in tax revenues would require these investments to be scaled back. However, we kept our promise of not only fully funding public education, protecting the salary increases to our teachers and school employees, but also added additional funds. Part of the $2 billion increase for public education funding in the state budget includes $664 million for targeted programs to help students and schools affected by the pandemic. This was made possible in large part to the bipartisan federal COVID-response legislation, including the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden. Education is the best equalizer and these investments will continue helping our students get an education.
The budget also continues our investments in higher education. We added $486 million to higher education to bring our total investment to $8.6 billion, $1.25 billion of which is for financial aid programs. The budget also provided over $145 million in funding for Texas A&M Corpus Christi, over $2 million of which supports the growing engineering programs we recently created. Moreover, the budget increased funding for Del Mar Community College by nearly $2 million, provided $8.5 million to the UT Marine Science Institute, and added a new $3 million to create the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Unmanned Aircraft Emergency Management program.
Additionally, the approved budget bolsters our healthcare workforce by increasing funding for graduate medical education by $48 million to a total of $199 million to maintain a 1.1 to 1.0 ratio for residency slots. This increase in GME funding will help increase the number of highly trained doctors in our region.
Mental health continues to be a priority for the legislature. The approved budget strengthens our commitment by including $8.4 billion in behavioral health funding across 25 state agencies. This includes an increase of almost $20 million for the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium which will now be funded at nearly $120 million to provide early intervention for students at risk of suicide, substance abuse, or becoming a danger to themselves or others.
For our retirees, the 2019 legislative session was focused on the Teacher Retirement System. This session, we worked to address issues related to the Employees Retirement System. We passed Senate Bill 321 which will be used to start paying down the $14.7 billion unfunded liability in conjunction with an increase in the state's investment into this system from $350 million to $510 million annually. These moves not only help shore up the pension fund, but also saves the state $34 billion in interest over 33 years.
Other major statewide funding items we passed include $352.6 million for women's health programs, which is an increase of $10.2 million from the previous budget. Funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was increased by a total of $100.6 million to a total of $316.9 million, including $500,000 for the Texas State Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Center. This means more funds for our state parks and more available grant funds for our local parks. Transportation funding also remained a priority and $26.5 billion has been approved for highway planning and design, construction, and other purposes.
The budget we approved also includes funding for many of our Coastal Bend priorities including $8.6 million for Healthy South Texas, headquartered in Corpus Christi; $40 million for port access improvements; $30 million in Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance (DEAAG) Grants; and $9.7 million for boll weevil eradication.
The budget we passed increases access and funding to services needed by our most vulnerable populations -- the young, elderly, sick, and poor. We invested in education, healthcare, public safety, and infrastructure. This budget will benefit our state and our Coastal Bend communities by paving the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy recovering from the pandemic and the winter storm.