The Texas Senate has finally passed its budget for the next biennium after Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Steve Ogden, has been trying to gather a two-thirds majority for days. Senate leaders decided to use a procedural maneuver to avoid the seemingly impossible two-thirds agreement in the chamber. Republicans bypassed Democratic opposition by using a special Senate rule that allows House bills to be considered on Wednesday and Thursdays only with a majority approval, and the Senate budget proposal originated in the House. Senators voted along party lines on Wednesday, May 4 with a 19-12 vote to approve the budget plan.
The delay in the Senate’s decision was caused by the Rainy Day Fund and whether or not the state should use more of the emergency money to close budget shortfalls. Republicans argued that the reserve fund should be left untouched in case there is a state emergency, but Democrats disagreed and claimed that without the money, schools and public services would be underfunded. Senator Ogden offered an amendment that removed the rainy day money from the budget, which garnered additional conservative Republican support but lost some Democrats. The compromise allowed the budget to move forward, but the Senate and House still need to review their non-tax revenue measures. Nonetheless, the Senate has remained true to its promise that it will make cuts to the budget and not raise taxes; and at least that is something the House and Senate will have in common when both chambers meet to debate the Texas budget.
Now the bill is headed to the House-Senate conference committee to be debated by select Senators and Representatives before it is sent to both chambers for final approval. However, some leaders believe the Senate has surrendered much of its bargaining power by removing the additional rainy day funding and splitting the vote along party lines. The House bill already proposes using $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and given the Republican majority in both houses and Governor Perry’s commitment to preserving reserve funds, it is probable that the two chambers will need to utilize new, non-tax revenue sources and not the Rainy Day Fund to close the budget deficit for the next biennium.
House Appropriations Chairman, Jim Pitts, has confirmed that members will look at non-tax revenue bills the week of May 9th. The Texas Legislature’s time is running short to dig up enough revenues without raising taxes and their list of options is short.