Budget deal, graduation reform approved on sine die eve


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on May 26, 2013 at 10:09 PM

Updated Monday, May 27 at 7:50 AM

AUSTIN -- With applause and more than a few bipartisan embraces, the Texas House approved a complex and hotly contested budget deal Sunday night.

 One of the budget deal's chief architects, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) says building a successful coalition behind the only bill the Texas Legislature is constitutionally required to pass has been a white knuckle endeavor.
"If you would have told me last week that we would have been able to pass all these budget deals, I would have said, 'What were you smoking?'" Pitts joked with reporters after the passage of budget bill SB 1. "I didn't think that we could get it done, but we had a lot of help."
In order to finish the budget under the terms agreed to earlier this month, lawmakers had to pass the budget itself as well as supplemental budget bill HB 1025, which included setting aside $2 billion from the rainy day fund to finance water projects. The deal was also contingent upon the passage of SJR 1, a measure asking voters in November to approve a fund into which that $2 billion would be placed.
While the remaining components of the budget arrangement each passed by comfortable margins Sunday, not all were satisfied.
"I say this is not a good budget though there is good in it," state Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) told the House members before voting against the budget bill. Among those raising objections to the deal were several members of the House Tea Party caucus.
"I'm disappointed that we don't have bigger tax cuts for average Texans given the revenue that the state has," said state Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano). "I think we have the money to set our priorities, pay for everything that we need to pay for without raiding the rainy day fund. I also think we have the money to give Texans a tax break."
The roughly $197 billion two-year budget increases money for education and creates a framework to finance water funds. Meanwhile progress on initiatives laid out by Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) as critical, such as tax relief and funding for roads, remains unclear. The House voted unanimously to approve HB 5, an omnibus education reform bill that overhauls public school graduation requirements, including reducing the number of end of course exams.
With talk of Perry calling a special session if items such as roads and tax relief aren't adequately addressed, there are still question marks. Although the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature is scheduled to adjourn sine die Monday, lawmakers could soon find out whether they'll be called back to work.