At 3:56 am, the House unanimously passed the budget.
"The real story tonight is that we all worked together, arm in arm, to pass a budget that we can all be proud of. We have shown that working together, we can do what is right for Texas and for Texans," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.
The mostly sedate debate - there was a random "bring it on!" when one lawmaker questioned another's amendment - ran the gamut of sometimes hot-button subjects while intentionally steering clear of a couple of sensitive issues.
House members voted to ban public funding for private school vouchers, bar the Texas Department of Transportation from hiring lobbyists, pay for rail relocation to pave the way for a high-speed passenger train from San Antonio to Dallas under an amendment by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and change teacher incentive funding to give local school districts more control under an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.
The Republican governor would see losses on two fronts under the proposal approved at 4 a.m.
The measure would drain most of the operating funds for Perry's office, instead using it to pay for community mental health crisis services and veterans' services under amendments by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and John Davis, R-Houston.
In addition, if Gov. Rick Perry carries through on his vow to block some $555 million in stimulus funds for unemployment benefits, he would lose the $136 million in the Enterprise Fund.
That budget amendment by Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, would transfer the money to the unemployment trust fund that pays benefits to workers.
"He (Perry) is having a bad day," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco. "He might have to secede."
But an effort to slash funding for Planned Parenthood was dropped, and lawmakers also decided to forgo consideration of a ban on embryonic stem cell research.
Now then. As fun as it is to contemplate a penniless Governor's office - perhaps its functions can be privatized; I hear Accenture is looking for a new gig - that was just a bit of a shell game that will ultimately be rectified. Of much greater importance, and much more likely to have a real effect, was the amendment to zero out the Enterprise Fund.
Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer proposed an amendment that would keep Texas companies from receiving money from the Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund if they'd already been bailed out by the feds. (Withdrawn.) Rep. Marisa Marquez tried to keep Perry's funds from bailing out corporations that laid people off while paying bonuses to executives. (Also withdrawn) And Rep. Joe Moody wanted to prohibit cash flow from Perry's funds to companies that contributed to his, Dewhurst's or Straus' campaigns. Debbie Riddle killed that bit of fun with a point of order. (She's good at that.)
Then, Rep. Armando Walle wanted to nix the $136 million appropriation for the Enterprise Fund in the 2010-11 biennium if none of the unemployment insurance bills pass. The idea here is that if the unemployment insurance bills don't pass, then Texas won't get the $555 million for the unemployment trust fund, which Perry rejected last month. And the Enterprise Fund siphons money from the trust fund. So what Walle wanted to do with his amendment is say to Perry, "Veto the unemployment insurance bills, and we'll zero out your slush fund." But that amendment didn't fly, either. Died on a point of order.
So far, Mark Strama has been the only one of the bunch to have any success. His amendment, which passed, says that the Emerging Tech Fund should prioritize funding for energy-related R & D projects.
But stay tuned. Yvonne Davis' amendment, which would completely eliminate funding for Perry's Enterprise Fund, was temporarily withdrawn, but seems like it might have some success.
The floor fights have been few and far between. We hear that House members on the left and right have struck a truce and agreed to pull down their most controversial budget amendments.
That includes Panhandle Republican Warren Chisum's proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Chisum's amendment had family family planning providers worried. But the amendment never came up.
Leo Berman, the Tyler Republican, did bring forth two amendments aimed at illegal immigrants. One would have instructed state health officials not to issue birth certificates to children of illegal immigrants (who, under current law, are U.S. citizens). Berman also tried to tax money transfers sent from Texas back to Mexico, and Central and South America. Both of Berman's amendments were shot down on points of order because they changed state law, which isn't allowed during the budget debated.
UPDATE: From Texas Impact:
Among the most important improvements the House made on the floor were:
- Authorizing the Health and Human Services Commission to use ARRA funds to provide full-year Medicaid enrollment for children contingent upon the passage of necessary legislation
- Establishment of performance measures for agencies receiving ARRA funds to guide their expenditure of those funds
- Authorizing new ARRA-funded programs for energy efficiency/renewable energy loans and green jobs contingent upon the passage of necessary legislation