Every time the Lege meets, they have one task on their must-do list, and that's pass a budget. They could do nothing else (and there are times when that would be a good idea), but they have to do this. Meet this biennium's version, for better or worse.
House budget-writers today recommended a $150.1 billion, two-year state budget to cover everything from education and prisons to health care for the needy.
The bill represents a 3.8 percent increase in state and federal funds over current spending, with much of the new money going to education and health and human services. Money also is set aside for border security, and there's an increase for prison alternatives.
Approved 24-2 by the Appropriations Committee, it is slated for full House debate next week. The Senate then will pass its version of the measure, and negotiators will work out differences.
The bill's tally doesn't include $14.2 billion in state money required to subsidize local school property tax relief over the next two years, which is handled in separate legislation.
But Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, House Appropriations Committee chairman, said the action shows the cut in property tax rates remains lawmakers top priority.
Democratic Reps. Alma Allen and Rick Noriega of Houston voted against the measure.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, abstained. Turner, who is speaker pro tem, said he can't keep supporting the GOP House leadership on such votes unless he's assured he gets support for programs important to his constituents.
Turner said a prime example is the expansion he's pushing for CHIP, a program that covers children in families who don't qualify for Medicare but can't afford private insurance.
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, voted for the measure even though she said she has concerns over issues including whether CHIP will be funded. She said she did so because Chisum gave his word that he is committed to the expansion.
That will be important when the House and Senate negotiate differences in their budgets to come up with a final spending plan.
"It's a trust factor at this point," McClendon said. "I'm a person of my word, and I believe when some gives their word to me, I have to respect that."
There's nothing I can say here that I haven't already said, over and over again. If this is the straw that finally breaks Turner's and McClendon's backs, better late than never. Just don't expect me to be too mature to refrain from saying "I told you so".Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 21, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo