Published: Sun, April 09, 2017
Medical | By Ismael Lynch

House to debate budget amendments

House to debate budget amendments

It took more than 15 hours for the Texas House of Representatives to pass a $218 billion budget, by a vote of 131 to 16 - but not until after lawmakers debated almost 400 amendments.

The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. Although both chambers are keeping a tight lid on spending at a time when tax collections are coming in slow even as the demand for services grows larger.

The budget now heads back to the Senate, which is all but certain to reject it, setting up a panel that will hash out the differences before the end of session.

The House's version is a bit higher, and it takes money from the state's Rainy Day Fund to balance the numbers. Dan Patrick and GOP senators who last week narrowly pushed through a bill that would create "education savings accounts" and "tax credit scholarships" in Texas' 17 most populous counties.

The state budget is the only piece of legislation that must pass during the regular session of the Texas Legislature. The budget can not allocate funds "to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic education", the amendment states. More than 400 amendments have been filed.

"We all have bets on how long it's going to go", said State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, "My bet on when we finish is 3:15 a.m". It remains unclear of the House will finish before midnight, meaning a vote on the budget may not come until Friday.

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In the marathon debate, the House took preliminary votes to spend millions of dollars to combat homelessness, increase funding for substance abuse treatment and restore a controversial film-industry incentive program. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) reflects another bipartisan effort to support neighborhood schools while acknowledging the growing role of charters.

The Texas House has voted to take $20 million from the state's environmental agency and funnel it toward an "Alternative to Abortion" program that counsels low-income, pregnant women.

When he gave lawmakers his official revenue estimate in January, Hegar cautioned that sales tax collections would likely grow less than 1 percent during the two-year budget cycle that starts September 1. Critics say the $800 million pot of two-year funding has been ineffective and poorly monitored, and several amendments would require independent government agencies to review the cost-effectiveness of the border spending. The chamber voted that idea down 117-27.

The House also parted ways with the Senate by voting to bar state money from being diverted to private school tuition.

The mixed-bag news delivered by Hegar will have little effect on the overall budget debate and the amendments awaiting consideration. Top House budget writers, including some Democrats, as well as Republican Rep. JR Hoell, a budget detractor, were seen coming in and out of leadership offices Wednesday afternoon.

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