The end of Texas’ 82nd Legislative session is May 30 – that’s just over ten days – and the Legislature continues to delay important budget measures. Finance measures that are critical to balancing the budget were delayed in the House on May 18 as lawmakers struggled to reach an agreement. “We’re one day closer to a special session,” Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said after House Appropriations Chairman, Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, postponed the House’s consideration of revenue and education bills. Part of the delay was due to the 200 pre-filed amendments to Senate Bill 1811, which is a Senate education bill that must pass to balance the budget. House leaders are hoping to convince lawmakers to withdraw the amendments before considering the legislation on May 19 – if it happens as scheduled.
Despite Senator Ogden’s pessimistic outlook on the budget wrapping up by deadline, Governor Rick Perry remains optimistic, stating a budget “absolutely” can pass before regular session ends. The main hang up is funding education. Senator Ogden stated that the two chambers should agree where they can and “then go to a special session to work on our disagreements.” Most of the quibbling is between Republicans. To that end, Representative Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, thinks the arguing is a result of the GOP “starting to understand how incredibly deep these cuts are going to go into the public education system […] Reality is sinking in.”
On Tuesday May 17, Comptroller Susan Combs raised her estimate of revenue available for 2012-12 spending by $1.2 billion; but those numbers don’t close the $4 billion gap between the House and Senate on education spending. Governor Perry is pushing the deep cuts of the House but Lt. Governor Dewhurst is siding with the Senate. There is a clear divide between the two chambers and the executive office. Inflexibility on everyone’s behalf is preventing the Texas budget from being solved with the resources at hand, and no one is actively looking for new revenues to end the stalemate … yet. So far, discussion has focused entirely on solving this year’s budget crisis, but some members, particularly in the Senate, and even outside business interests are concerned about how Texas will grapple with a similar revenue shortfall next session when further cuts and accounting measures will not be as much of an option.