First draft of Texas budget holds line on spending

Posted Monday, Jan. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN - The 83rd Texas Legislature plunged into the arduous task of writing a new state budget on Monday as House Republican leaders released their version of a conservative spending plan that calls for $187.7 billion to fund state services over the next two years.

High points of the bill include funding education to meet projected enrollment increases over the next two years and covering projected growth in Medicaid. It also calls for a moratorium on funding for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which has been under investigation for possible misuse of grant money.

"This bill will allow the House to have an open, thorough, and transparent debate about appropriate funding levels for education, infrastructure, and services for the citizens of this state," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said in releasing a brief outline of the budget.

The bill "steadfastly maintains the House's commitment to fiscal discipline," Pitts added.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was expected to outline the Senate's proposed budget at a news conference later in the day. The two plans form the starting point for what are certain to be months of acrimonious debate to fund state government for the 2014-15 fiscal biennium that begins Sept. 1.

The revenue outlook is considerably brighter than two years ago when lawmakers cut $15 billion in state services in the aftermath of the recession to pass an austere $173 billion budget for the current biennium. Comptroller Susan Combs told incoming legislators last week they will have $101.4 billion in state general purpose revenue for the upcoming biennium and a total of $208.1 billion from all sources, including federal money.

Nevertheless, the House plan took a conservative path, adhering to Gov. Rick Perry's admonition to avoid a spending spree with the expanded revenue. Perry and legislative leaders have targeted infrastructure improvement - such as transportation and water - as major priorities and have also put possible tax relief on the table.

The House plan, known as House Bill 1, assumes passage of a $6.8 billion supplemental bill in the coming weeks to take care of leftover obligations in the current biennium, meaning that the proposed 2014-15 budget will reflect a $2.2 billion decrease over current spending, Pitts said. He said that the proposed budget falls below Combs' revenue estimate and is $3.7 billion less than a constitutional spending limit. It includes $89.1 billion in state general revenue.

Pitts said the bill reflects the demands of a rapidly growing state "as well as the House's continued commitment to responsible fiscal leadership."

Remaining costs from the 2012-13 biennium, such as the five unfunded months of Medicaid, a shortfall in the Foundation School Program, and reimbursements for wildfire expenses will be covered in a supplemental appropriations bill, Pitts said.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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