Texas House overwhelmingly passes $302.6 billion budget

The bill includes a measure that would prevent school vouchers, which is a priority for the governor and lieutenant governor.

By Sarah AschApril 7, 2023 10:50 am,

The Texas House of Representatives passed a $302.6 billion budget Thursday after a spirited debate on the floor.

The budget bill — HB 1 — addresses a number of key issues including property tax relief, school vouchers, school safety and teacher pay.

Jasper Scherer, who covers the statehouse for the Houston Chronicle, said the House budget has language preventing the state from putting public funds toward private schools.

“The budget is by no means the final word on vouchers, but what lawmakers did yesterday was adopt an amendment that essentially said no state funds can be used for vouchers or any similar type of program,” Scherer said. “That language can be stripped from the budget at any point before it gets finalized. But the vote was kind of seen as an informal measure of how voucher bills might fare in the House later on this session.”

Scherer said a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans took a stand against vouchers, similar to what has happened in previous sessions.

“That’s just a persistent hurdle that Governor [Greg] Abbott’s going to have to find a way to to get around,” he said.

The House didn’t make any changes to its property tax relief plan in the budget lawmakers passed, Scherer said. Both the House and the Senate have relief measures, but the two chambers are approaching the issue differently.

“The House plan still puts about $17 billion towards property tax relief,” Scherer said. “About $5 billion of that’s going towards maintaining existing reforms, and then another $12 billion in new relief. Democrats did offer up some budget amendments yesterday that would have diverted some of that new tax relief toward public school funding … but those efforts were all shot down by the Republican majority.”

Scherer said the two proposals focus on different demographics.

“The Senate plan would focus a little bit more on homeowners. It’s kind of centered around increasing the homestead exemption,” he said. “The House plan would take the approach of lowering appraisal caps or lowering the maximum.”

A sticking point during the debate Thursday was a provision that would prohibit public colleges and universities from using state funds for diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“Democrats tried to get rid of that language, and their amendment failed on a party-line vote. And this is kind of similar to the voucher issue where that vote was kind of more of a litmus test of how these bills were likely to do in the House and the Senate,” Scherer said. “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is really pushing an outright ban on these programs.”

The vast majority of lawmakers approved the budget — the vote was 136 to 10. Most of those who voted against the bill were Democrats. Most of the Democrats voted no because they disagreed with provisions like the DEI ban, Scherer said.

“Then it was a couple of hard line, more conservative Republicans who largely opposed the inclusion of that anti-voucher amendment,” Scherer said. “It’s mostly just a kind of a signal of their values and it doesn’t have a true meaningful effect on the budget.”

Scherer said there were not a lot of surprises in the budget. Some of the more notable developments occurred when the House took up the supplemental budget, which plugs holes in the current budget cycle, he said.

“One proposal that I didn’t expect to happen: One of the representatives proposed a Medicaid expansion amendment, which has been proposed in the past and consistently shot down,” he said. “It failed again this time, but it was looking like they weren’t even going to make an attempt to do that.”

The House also accepted an amendment proposed by Democrats to give retired teachers a cost-of-living adjustment.

“They tapped another part of the budget to pay for that,” Scherer said. “So basically it means that current working teachers aren’t going to be footing the bill at all for that cost-of-living adjustment.”

Scherer said the next step is for the budget to go to the Senate, where another version will be passed.

“We’ll see how closely that lines up with the House budget. And then the two chambers will end up kind of ironing out all their differences in what’s known as a conference committee, where you have a handful of members from both chambers negotiating behind closed doors to come up with the final version,” he said. “Then they’ll have to both vote on it again and send it off to the governor.”

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