Budget deal hammered out as 83rd Texas Legislature nears finish line


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

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Posted on May 17, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Updated Friday, May 17 at 8:17 PM

AUSTIN -- With no shortage of legislation to get in before deadline, the Texas House spent Friday working through a long agenda. Friday's list of items included a series of successful votes on second reading to push forward legislation that would ease restrictions on craft breweries.

"It kind of levels the playing field and allows the craft brewers, the small brewers, to get into the business and be able to distribute and sell their beer to the public," said state Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), the House sponsor of several measures relating to microbreweries.
The morning began with the House Appropriations committee advancing SJR 1, a key piece of the water funding plan that would allow voters to approve a constitutionally dedicated funding source for water projects. The fund would be bankrolled by a separate bill appropriating $2 billion from the rainy day fund. Voting present, Democrats on the committee made it clear that the plan was still contingent on a budget deal to add more money to schools.
"The original concept is that you wanted the SJR, you wanted the ability to pull money, $2 billion from the rainy day fund, you want to be able to stay below the spending cap," said House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). "All these things are very much inextricably connected."
Citing the $5.4 billion cut from education last session, Democrats had asked for a $3.9 billion funding increase for education, a deal Turner said Republicans offered then later retracted. By Friday afternoon, a deal was finally reached to include an additional $3.4 billion for schools and $530 million for the teachers retirement system for a total of $3.93 billion.
"The House and the Senate agreed last week on a number and then there was consideration given to adding more money as we went through the process," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) told media after a public hearing of the budget conference committee Friday afternoon. "Always it's a tricky process to score where you are as you're putting this together because it's a moving target."
"I don't think there's anybody, Republicans or Democrats, who doesn't want to fund public education," said Williams. "We all want to fund it at the highest level that we can that's consistent with the other goals in the budget."
The agreement wasn't without fireworks. As Turner pressed Williams over why $200 million of the deal was tacked onto a separate bill, Williams responded, "Because I said so."
From the budget back to the topic of beer, perhaps the one thing most inside the Capitol can agree that after this week, a cold one doesn't sound bad.