Lawmakers endorse additional funds for schools, wildfire relief and West


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

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Posted on April 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 26 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Under the pink dome of the Texas Capitol, stacks of papers, huddled conversations and fierce exchanges are telltale signs the Texas Legislature is talking money.
On Friday, the talk in the state House concerned $875 million for state programs under supplemental appropriations bill HB 1025. When it comes to talking money, it's a process that at times can get tricky.
"You need to keep up, definitely," said House Appropriations Committee member Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock. "But I think what you'll also see if you look very carefully, you'll see a lot of the members going desk by desk and talking about it. And that's something we encourage a lot."
Gonzales says the process is one of understanding competing viewpoints and consensus building.
"You're asking 150 members to come together and prioritize spending, but everybody has different priorities," Gonzales explained. "And right now what you're watching is the battle to make that work."
The bill earning preliminary approval by state House members Friday would give an additional $500 million to public schools. It would also use roughly $168 million from the rainy day fund to help pay for wildfire relief efforts, in particular in places such as Bastrop.
"We've still got all the infrastructure damage in Bastrop County, everything from culverts, roads and bridges," said state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington), who represents Bastrop. "You've got trees that are burned and falling in the right of ways, it's still a massive undertaking."
Kleinschmidt says efforts to help volunteer fire departments recover financially from the 2011 fires is a critical concern, and one that would be dangerous to overlook.
"We're staying in the dry conditions, so we can return to very dangerous conditions very quickly all across Texas," said Kleischmidt.
Addressing more recent devastation, an amendment by state Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) would allow the legislature to use available state funds to assist recovery in the town of West. Representing West, Kacal says he's collaborating with city and county officials to identify all available means of assistance.
"There's obviously lots of options," said Kacal. "But if there's something we can do we want to be at the head of the pack to help them restore, rebuild their community."   
The bill isn't without criticism, yet after three hours of heated debate, it passed to engrossment with just nine no votes. It's the last major bill for House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), though he cautions now is no time to relax.
"Stay tuned, there's a whole lot more coming," said Pitts.