Tarrant freshmen taking 'a principled stand' on Texas budget

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- There's going to be a fight in the Texas House of Representatives today.

Freshman lawmakers from Tarrant County will be among those leading the charge to cut the state budget by filing amendments to reduce funding for programs and agencies and shift those dollars to the Teacher Retirement System to help fund retiree health insurance.

They say their overall goals are to help fund the teacher plan, shrink the budget for the next two years and avoid busting the state's spending limit if $2 billion is dedicated from the rainy-day fund to a water infrastructure fund.

"It will be a dogfight," said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. "This is a principled stand for most of us."

Today, the House will take up Senate Bill 1, the state budget and technically the only bill lawmakers have to pass during the 140-day legislative session, which ends May 27.

Nearly a dozen House freshmen -- including Stickland; Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake; Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth; Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth; and Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth -- have filed more than three dozen amendments to the $93.5 billion budget bill, trying to strip funding for everything from the Clean School Bus Program to the Governor's Commission for Women.

"This is not a slash-and-burn of the budget," Capriglione said. "We are saying, maybe make a 2 or 5 percent increase in funding for various areas instead of a 7 percent increase."

And they dedicated the savings they generate to the Teacher Retirement System because a report last year showed that it may have a shortfall of more than $1 billion in the next few years.

More than 250 amendments were pre-filed for today's budget debate.

Proposals include slashing funding for a feral-hog program, marketing for the Texas Lottery Commission, the film and music marketing program in the governor's office, even the Board of Professional Geoscientists. Other proposals range from cutting funding for the Texas Workforce Commission to limiting the salary of the executive director of the Veterans Commission to $126,500.

Stickland filed seven amendments, proposing cuts to efforts such as the Texas Clean School Bus Program, the Texas Natural Gas Vehicle Grant Program and the Alternative Fueling Facilities Program.

Goldman has filed three amendments, Capriglione and Klick two each, and Krause one -- proposals touching on everything from cutting funding for the Governor's Commission for Women to scaling back on funding for the Office of Injured Employees.

"All the amendments take from other areas and give funding to TRS," Goldman said.

Krause said, "We are taking steps so teachers know we are trying to take care of them."

The idea came from a gathering of the freshman class, which has met regularly since before the session began for legislative updates and discussions.

Won't be shut out

Many members were frustrated that they were essentially shut out of the budget process because they aren't members of the Appropriations Committee. So they decided to make their voices heard by filing amendments to the budget bill once it reaches the House floor.

"This is our chance to influence the budget system," Stickland said.

And by Friday morning, local members say, they hope to have changed the budget.

"I hope it will be smaller -- one way or the other -- by Friday," Capriglione said.

Local members said they have been getting feedback from constituents who support the budget reductions and have even suggested places to cut.

They've also heard from constituents who say they are watching what members are doing -- on the Internet, through social media, even on cable TV.

Educators who have reached out to lawmakers have seemed pleased with what's going on.

"The teachers are thrilled someone is looking out for them," Klick said.

While today's fight is about saving money -- and redirecting it to the greatest needs -- local members say this is a chance for them to keep their promises to voters.

"This is why we are here," Krause said. "This is what we ran on."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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