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Leaders: Agreement On $80.6 B Texas Budget Reached

By APRIL CASTRO and CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press
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AUSTIN (AP) – Negotiators reached an agreement on a two-year $80.6 billion Texas state budget that makes billions in cuts and will likely result in massive state layoffs, legislative leaders announced Friday.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, who had been in marathon negotiating sessions, did not release details of the final plan.

Lawmakers have been grappling with a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall. Republican leaders have vowed not to raise taxes and want to limit how much they spend from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, projected to have a balance of almost $10 billion.

Instead, they’ve made massive cuts to all levels of state government, including public schools and health care for the disabled, elderly and poor.

Dewhurst said the plan protects taxpayers and makes a “historic $15 billion cut in government spending.”

The plan still has to be printed and go back to both chambers for final approval.

The Legislature is constitutionally obligated to adopt the two-year state budget, which funds public schools, highways, courts, prisons and numerous other state programs.

“The agreement that we reached with the Senate today funds nursing homes, our public schools and universities, and provides financial aid for college students while keeping substantial revenue in reserves and avoiding any new taxes,” Straus said.

The two sides had been deadlocked on a revenue measure that budget writers said was vital to passing a balanced budget. The so-called fiscal matters bill had stalled in the House after lawmakers pre-filed hundreds of contentious amendments that endangered the bill’s passage. The House moved forward on the measure late Friday after many of the amendments were withdrawn.

A day earlier, budget leaders and aides said they had agreed on funding levels for public school operations and come closer on spending for higher education, one of the last sticking points.

House negotiators agreed to spend $4 billion more on public schools than originally proposed by the House, but the agreement still means schools will be short $4 billion owed to them under current funding laws and will likely result in the loss of tens of thousands of school jobs.

Accompanying legislation that would determine how the state would distribute that money was being considered by the Senate.

Education groups have warned the proposed House cuts could lead to tens of thousands of job losses for public school workers, including teachers.

“It’s easy to get bogged down in the political process and forget that there are real children and families who are affected by our decisions,” Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat, said to his colleagues as he introduced an eight-year-old with cerebral palsy who depends on Medicaid funding for therapies that allow him to sit up, talk and walk without being institutionalized.

“I feel strongly that we need to look the Texans who are affected by the budget in the eye.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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