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Ogden on board with Pitts about Rainy Day Fund

State Sen. Steve Ogden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, joins with his House counterpart Rep. Jim Pitts in endorsing the use of the Rainy Day Fund to at least close the deficit from the 2010-11 biennium.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he favors tapping rainy-day money at least to fill the current budget’s hole — which he puts at just over $3 billion.

Beyond that, Ogden said, he would support using additional rainy-day dollars “if necessary” to close a huge shortfall in the 2012-13 budget. Because his budget-writing panel “hasn’t voted on spending levels yet,” though, Ogden said he can’t say for sure if the additional funds would be needed.

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To use rainy-day dollars to plug holes in a current budget, as Pitts proposes, three-fifths of the members present in each chamber must vote for it. It would take a two-thirds vote of those present in each house to tap the fund to help balance the 2012-13 budget that’s being written.

A Perry veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of those present in each chamber.

Ogden said going for three-fifths, not two-thirds — which lowers the maximum number of House votes needed to 90 from 100 — is “a House consideration.”

“I don’t know of any senators who’ve taken a hard position on how much rainy-day fund [money] to spend,” Ogden said. “Not one.”
Pitts, asked if he, like Ogden, would be open to using more rainy-day money to balance the next cycle’s budget, said: “No. I am proposing to use it for our current shortfall.”

According to Abby Rapoport, Pitts was somewhat equivocal about using additional Rainy Day funds for this biennium. Governor Perry is opposing the use of any Rainy Day funds, claiming Pitts and Ogden are “moving too fast” for him. There are some things that nice Governors just don’t do without certain assurances, I guess. Maybe after he’s figured out where Mexico is we can bring it up again.

Ogden also spoke recently about what the current budget does to education.

Ogden said he visited the [Finance subcommittee on public education] today to encourage the senators to take a different look at the school funding changes they are considering.

“The proposed budget in public ed is draconian. So when you’re comparing these other options that actually cut spending from current law, don’t compare it to current law because we don’t have the money for current law, but compare it to what is in the base bill and see it if doesn’t look better,” Ogden said.

“The entire committee would like to add spending to public ed. What I just wanted to focus the members on is what the alternative is. The alternative is not current law. The alternative is the base bill,” he added.

Ogden formed two subcommittees to examine public school funding and Medicaid because they are arguably the most important issues facing budget-writers this session. They have been tasked with developing a consensus among both Republicans and Democrats on how much those programs need.

“If we cannot agree, we cannot pass a bill,” said Ogden, who added that the subcommittees will probably keep working past the the Friday deadline that he set.

Right now, Ogden said, he is “not even close” to having the votes to get the budget out of committee. He expects that the bill that comes to floor will spend more money than the introduced version, though he cannot say how much or where the additional money would come from.

“When we’ve got the votes, the bill is coming to the floor,” Ogden said. “Right now, I don’t have the votes so I don’t have a timeline.”

What I take from this is that pretty much no matter what they wind up doing, funding for public education will be worse off than it was before. They make may big improvements over the base budget and the $9.3 to $9.8 billion that was slashed from public ed, but they will not get back to even, let alone find a way to account for growth. Keep that in mind when the self-congratulations begin for how much “better” the final product is said to be.

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