The Texas Senate unanimously approved a two-year budget on Tuesday that would shift nearly $2 billion in public education costs from the state to local taxpayers.
The Senate’s $218 billion document now goes to budget writers in the House for debate.
“This is a lean budget, but it’s also a smart budget,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the 2018-19 Senate budget’s lead author. “It responsibly meets the needs of our state.”
The Senate’s proposal would spend $106.3 billion in state revenue, which is a significant bump from the $103.6 billion budget Nelson originally rolled out in January. That puts the Senate’s total spending level much closer to the House’s than they were when the proposals were originally published.
Still, there are major differences in funding priorities and methods of finance that the two chambers will need to reconcile before the Legislature adjourns in May, setting the stage for some of the biggest points of contention this year.
Nelson touted her budget’s focus on education. The Senate proposal actually strips about $1.8 billion in state funds for education but uses local property taxes and other revenue to make up the difference. In total, Nelson said, her proposal would boost public school funding by $4.6 billion compared to the prior budget, including a $2.6 billion provision to cover student enrollment growth.
“Under our formula, the local share of education funding fills up the bucket first, as local property tax collections go up, the state share goes down,” Nelson said. “But in the aggregate, funding for education is going up every year.”
At the same time, the Senate is advancing controversial tax cut proposals that critics say would make it more difficult for the state and local governments to pay for schools. Last week, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2, which seeks to curb the growth in property taxes, and Senate Bill 17, which would cut the franchise tax paid by businesses in future years.
Emphasis mine. Note the on-the-nose Trib headline, “Texas Senate approves its budget, shifting school costs to local taxpayers”. Whatever else happens this session, I feel like at least the message that it’s the Legislature that is the main driver of property tax discontent has gotten out. Whether it’s gotten through is another matter, but at least it’s out there. I can’t recall that ever being the case before. The Chron has more on the Senate budget.
Meanwhile, over in the House:
The House Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved a two-year, $218.2 billion budget as a substitute for the Senate’s leaner proposal, putting the chambers on a collision course in the last two months of the session.
HB 1 now heads to the full House for a vote with contrasts to the $217.7 Senate proposal, which the upper chamber approved earlier this week.
House appropriators want to spend $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund in their budget, leaving a $9.4 billion balance. That decision has touched off a public fight between House and Senate budget writers about whether they should dip into the state’s savings account.
On Wednesday, Chairman John Zerwas, a Republican from Katy, took a swipe at the Senate, which signed off on a maneuver that would delay until 2020 the transfer of $2.5 billion for transportation funding that voters approved in 2015.
“This budget does not rely on budget gimmickry that puts the state’s investment in transportation at risk,” he said. “The budget balances by cutting spending, prioritizing critical items and using a modest amount of (the Rainy Day Fund), for the exact purpose for which it is created.”