Posted on May 16, 2013 at 6:26 PM
Thursday, May 16 at 7:16 PM
AUSTIN -- There are just 11 days remaining in the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, and pressure is mounting on tense negotiations over the state budget.
Thursday morning, House Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) accused Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) of pressuring Republicans to move the goalposts on school funding, an allegation the governor's office denies.
"We were told yesterday morning by the leadership the governor says we spend too much on education. The governor is lobbying Republican members to vote no on education," said Turner, a member of the conference committee charged with rectifying the House and Senate versions of state budget bill SB 1.
Turner says Republican leaders agreed to a deal Friday that would add $2.5 billion in general revenue and return $1.4 billion in tax revenue gained from increased property values to schools for a total of $3.9 billion, in exchange for Democrat support of a plan to appropriate $2 billion from the rainy day fund to finance a water bank created pending a statewide election.
Turner says after reaching another agreement Tuesday night, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) indicated Wednesday morning the deal would not go over $3.5 billion, threatening a special session with even less money for education if Democrats don't agree.
Turner argued Thursday morning the failure to compromise isn't the fault of Democrats, blaming Republicans for altering the deal.
"That was the agreement last week, that's where we are today," said Turner. "You got your spending cap you're standing underneath that. I thought that was important. You wanted the water, we're giving you that. You wanted roads we're giving you that. What more do you want?"
The latest deal would include $3.2 billion in additional education and roughly $300 million for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Turner claimed Republicans were more interested in funding "special projects," such as the governor's proposed tax relief initiatives, than fully funding education, and had threatened to return to social issues such as abortion in a special session.
Speaking with media at an event Thursday to mark the signing of the Michael Morton Act into law, Perry brushed off questions over where education funding should top out.
"I know how this process works," said Perry. "I'm working with the members of the legislature. I frankly am not going to craft the budget here with you all today."
The governor instead reemphasized his expectations for the legislature to avoid a special session.
"Send a budget to me that is balanced, that has substantial tax relief, I have said $1.8 billion, that has addressed the needs of this state, particularly dealing with water infrastructure, with highway transportation infrastructure, and then we can get out of here on time," said Perry. "I think we're really close to getting all those things done."
"I'm sure there are folks that would like to blow up the session just to see the pieces of the machinery blow up through the air," Perry added. "But these men and women standing here with me and the rest of the members by and large are about getting our work done and prioritizing what's important."
Other signs seemed to indicate despite the differences, a compromise was near. Dozens packed a conference room waiting for a 2:00 p.m. public hearing called by the conference committee on SB 1, only for it to be postponed an hour, then indefinitely.
The only thing sure for now is that time is running out.