AUSTIN (AP) – Lawmakers are hoping for a quick resolution to the school finance jam that sparked the special session.
Public hearings on a handful of budget-related bills started Thursday, just two days after the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry convened.
Leaders said they hope to have committee votes in the House on Saturday and in the Senate on Friday. That would allow each chamber to take up the measures over the weekend.
Some House Democrats complained that such an expedited schedule would not allow enough time to adjust the proposal based on public input or for analysts to prepare detailed data to school districts before they have to vote.
“I want us at least to be able to say to the general public that their time is respected and their time is valuable … this committee will take their comments under advisement,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
“I’m questioning whether or not the input from the general public is going to be weighed in this process.”
Committee Chairman Jim Pitts said lawmakers would have time to amend the proposals both in committee and during the House debate.
The school finance bill would change distribution formulas to public schools so the state could legally give schools less money under the new budget. It would spread the $4 billion shortfall over the two years of the budget period — 6 percent across-the-board cuts in 2012 and $2 billion in targeted funding levels in 2013.
Democrats successfully scuttled the measure during the regular session with a late-night filibuster. But Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for a special session, which started Tuesday.
Democrats have fought to use more money from the almost $10 billion reserve fund to help pay for public schools.
Republicans say the cuts are necessary to balance the budget without raising taxes.
Critics also argue the bill could hurt schools in the future by eliminating a requirement that the state close funding gaps that may be caused by dips in local property values.
The measure would push a state payment to school districts into the next budget period. That would make an estimated $2.3 billion available for spending.
Democrats were hoping to get a little help from Texas teachers, but the crowds were mostly made up of lobbyists.
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