Texas lawmakers discuss capping Rainy Day Fund, diverting money to education

At the Texas Capitol, lawmakers are talking about capping the amount of money that goes into the Economic Stabilization Fund -- commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.

AUSTIN - The House Committee on Appropriations heard public testimony Monday on several bills proposing to cap the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), also known as the Rainy Day Fund, and use money that would go into the fund for other purposes. 

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) authored one such piece of legislation. He pointed out that in the upcoming biennium, the ESF will have about $11 billion in it. Huberty said the Legislative Budget Board considers the ESF to have a sufficient balance at $7.5 billion. 

As the committee discussed the bills, Committee Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) pushed back against the idea the fund is only to be used for one-time expenditures, as has been stated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), members of the senate and some house republicans. Zerwas said the ESF was never intended to be used solely for one time expenditures and that's a narrative being used by some. He added the purpose of the fund is to shore up needs that aren't being met.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard (D) wants to to see the fund capped and the remaining money go into the Teacher Retirement System.

Rep. Huberty has a similar idea, but he wants to let the voters decide what to do. He's proposing House Joint Resolution 53 which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that states when the fund reaches $10 billion, the remaining money will be spent on education.

Huberty said he is willing and ready to vote to direct funds in that way as a legislature but there are some Representatives and Senators who oppose the idea. Therefore, he wants the people of Texas to decide. 

"I've been working on education reform for 14 years," said Huberty. "And nobody seems to want to do it. And, sooner or later, you got to have the will. You have to be able to want to do this and take, you know, all the political ramifications out. You know, the right thing. You have to do the right thing, you've got to want to do the right thing. Why don't we want to do the right thing? And that's just the frustrating part with me."

Rep. Huberty, a former school superintendent, passed a bill during the regular session to address the state's school finance system. House Bill 21 would have put more state money to public schools. The bill passed in the House but the amended version from the senate died. Huberty refiled the bill during the Special Session, again labeling it House Bill 21. Monday, representatives took the third and final vote, passing the bill which allocate an additional $1.8 billion to public schools. Representatives also took the final vote and passed House Bill 23 which creates a grant program for schools with innovative programs for students with autism. Both bills will now be sent to the senate. 

Rep. Huberty's resolution was left pending in committee, but he previously said he is hopeful the House will be able to vote on it this week.

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