AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas lawmakers will debate the House version of the state budget Thursday in a marathon discussion to decide how to spend taxpayer money over the next two years.
More than 245 amendments were prefiled for consideration in the budget, which clocks in at just under $247 billion.
House budget writers slashed more than $18 billion from last session’s budget — almost 7%. COVID-19 losses capped spending.
On the eve of Budget Day, the office of State Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, was buzzing with visitors— mostly other lawmakers bending the ear of the vice chair for the House Appropriations Committee on which of their priorities can sneak into the plan.
“This is the most important document that we do this session,” she said in an interview.
“We are listening to every member and why they have their amendments and trying to work through them,” she said. “And making sure that both the members and the House as a whole and the state as a whole are taken care of.”
Health and Human Services faces the steepest financial cut with close to an $8.5 billion hole (a decrease of 8.9% over the last biennium). Natural Resources is looking at a 31.2% cut to the tune of $3.4 billion. A 12.4% cut for General Government is on the table, which would bring that section’s change down $982.1 billion.
Higher Education faces a $3.5 billion cut, which calculates to a 13.5% decline from last session.
State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, hopes to tweak that with an amendment filed to restore a budget cut to The University of Texas Permian Basin.
“We can’t just have a free spending legislative session no matter how important the needs are for my district or for other members’ districts. But we also want to make sure that we’re not doing damage to that process,” Landgraf said. “So anytime that we can restore funding, maybe not an increase, but just to keep cuts from taking place, we’re looking for opportunities to do that.”
“We’re not in a robust budget cycle,” he mentioned. “I understand completely, the most important thing in this process is to have a balanced state budget, so that Texas is living within its means, because we expected Texas families to do that.”
House Appropriations Chair Greg Bonnen is tasked with leading the budget balancing act. He could not be reached for comment for this report.
Public education finds a boost in the House’s version of the budget, which González was adamant about.
“I didn’t vote for the budget, I think, my first two sessions as a legislator,” she said. “Why? Because our budget at that time underfunded our local public schools.”
“This budget fully funds public schools as well as maintains billions of dollars that we put in last session through HB 3 (omnibus public education legislation),” she continued. “That’s the number one priority not only for the appropriators, but for the Texas House.”
The Senate’s version of the budget, which already passed out of the upper chamber, is slightly higher at $250.7 billion. It makes larger cuts to health and higher education, and made fewer cuts to general government and public safety.
“We’re coming in with the House and Senate Budget very similar,” González said. “I predict that it’s going to be an easier budget process than usual, so to speak, because we came in so similarly.”
Key members of both chambers will get together once both versions are passed to iron out the differences between the two budgets in conference committee before the legislation heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Rachel Garza contributed to this report.