AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – With seven weeks left, the real wrangling in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s first session now begins.
That’s because the Senate on Tuesday approved a new spending blueprint for Texas: a $211.4 billion budget proposal that more than triples border security spending, boosts highway construction and leaves Democrats grumbling over classroom spending and pre-K dollars.
The broad strokes of the Senate plan don’t drastically differ from what the House ratified during a grueling 18-hour floor debate earlier this month. But there’s still a long way to go before a compromise reaches Abbott’s desk.
Here’s what Texas lawmakers are planning to fund — and leave aside — as the Legislature nears the finish line:
WHAT THE DOLLARS COVER
Historic state spending on border security and the biggest tax cuts in Texas in a decade. More money is also getting funneled to the state’s beleaguered Child Protective Services program, which has been wracked in recent years by deaths of foster children who were under state supervision.
WHAT THE DOLLARS DON’T
Any Medicaid expansion, as Texas Republicans refuse to change course like other conservative states and add more low-income and uninsured residents to the state’s rolls.
Pre-K expansion also remains sidelined. Abbott says raising pre-K standards is one of his first priorities in office, but schools and educator groups say the extra proposed funding being floated around the Capitol (about $130 million) would barely change the status quo.
The Senate is also trying to put another nail in a Rick Perry legacy: giving filmmakers taxpayer-funded incentives to make movies and TV shows in Texas. About 90 percent of that program’s budget is on the chopping block.
New Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Every Republican in Texas last year basically campaigned on two things — border security and tax cuts — and Patrick can now boast to conservative voters that his chamber is on the brink of delivering both.
Conservatives can also point to billions of dollars in revenue left on the table. The state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund, for instance, will have a projected $11 billion balance by 2017 — but Republicans haven’t talked about spending any of it.
House Republicans. Although the House and Senate spending plans are not far apart side by side, how to deliver nearly $5 billion in tax cuts has so far led to a stalemate.
Democrats aren’t thrilled either. They resigned themselves to Republicans’ tax-cutting fever but wanted lawmakers to put more money toward schools and roads first. Even one Republican, Sen. Kevin Eltife, signaled his disappointment that the Legislature was talking tax cuts while roads are still short $3 billion in funding.
Senate and House budget writers now start negotiations. The deadline to get a budget on Abbott’s desk is June 1.
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