Preliminary budget plans call for overall decrease in spending levels


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 14 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, offered media a much-anticipated first glimpse Monday of the Senate's draft state budget.

"Basically the budget fully funds the enrollment growth not only in public education but also in higher education, funds new bond issuance for water and transportation, funds our Medicaid caseload growths at the August 2013 level and has finance charges that reduce our use of [general revenue] dedicated funds," Dewhurst said.

After last week's biennial revenue estimate by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs predicted Texas would see a massive increase in revenue totaling $208.2 billion in state and federal funds over the next two years, Dewhurst and Williams outlined plans for a $186 billion budget that would decrease total spending 1.6 percent from 2012-2013 levels.

Combs predicted general revenue for the state would top $101.4 billion, including $8.8 billion left over from the previous biennium. Senate Bill 1 recommends roughly $89 billion in general revenue spending, a 1.8 percent increase from $87.4 billion budgeted for 2012-2013.

Areas such as general government spending and higher education would see an overall decrease in funding, while areas including business and economic development and health and human services would see a slight increase.

The Senate plan also calls for an additional $2.2 billion for public education to account for enrollment growth over the next two years.

"Enrollment growth is fully funded based on 85,000 new students per year in our public education system," Williams said. "The instructional materials allotment is funded, and it assumes that the foundation school program, the deferral that we made in the last session was reversed by a supplemental appropriations bill."

State Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, will file a House version of the budget on Tuesday, and details released Monday indicate a similar approach.

According to a statement from Pitts' office, House Bill 1 would appropriate $89.1 billion in general revenue as part of $187.7 billion in total spending, a $2.2 billion decrease from 2012-13 levels.

"This bill will allow the House to have an open, thorough, and transparent debate about appropriate funding levels for education, infrastructure, and services for the citizens of this state," Pitts said in Monday's statement.

The bill also promises to fully fund Medicaid caseload growth, as well as freeze money for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) after ethics concerns prompted lawmakers to declare a moratorium on grant funding.

Neither bill would restore the 82nd Texas Legislature's deep cuts to education, an item of major concern for many Democrats.

"The only way I can think of that anybody can be satisfied with that level of spending is that they're satisfied with the outcomes we're getting in the public education system," said State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin). "And I don't know many parents who are satisfied with what we're offering public school students today."

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen), vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, suggested bills left unpaid by the previous legislature may make a higher funding target an intractable objective.

"Eighty-nine billion is a very good start," said Hinojosa. "We're better off than last session, and for us to think that we can go back to the same spending levels that we did prior to the recession I think are unrealistic."

There will be plenty of debate to come, now that the battle lines have been drawn.


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