Texas House wraps up current budget with extra $500 million for schools

Posted Friday, Apr. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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AUSTIN -- Training for volunteer firefighters, money to arm Texas prosecutors and an extra $500 million for public schools were ways that House lawmakers considered spending the final dollars in the current state budget Friday.

Not all the proposals survived. But the House eventually gave overwhelming approval to an $875 million spending bill that includes an immediate half-billion-dollar payout to classrooms and settles the costs from fighting wildfires that ravaged the state in 2011.

Lawmakers also approved $2 million for disaster recovery in West, a town of 2,800 where dozens of families were displaced by the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant last week.

Fifteen people were killed, most of whom were volunteer firefighters and emergency medics.

But the ground rules of the budget debate demanded that lawmakers find money to cut if they wanted to spend, and Democrats balked at the training coming at the expense of a program to help feed low-income children.

"We've been sent here to make tough choices," said Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview.

The $60 million proposal for more training and resources for volunteer firefighter departments statewide was soundly defeated moments after Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, cried while describing growing up in a poor family that would have benefited from programs to make sure schoolchildren don't go hungry on weekends.

Cutting funding for the food program "does an injustice to children like me who, growing up, did not have food at the table," Gonzalez said, "who had parents that are working hard who don't want to be part of the system, who want to give their children something to eat at night."

Gov. Rick Perry still must sign the spending bill. But with the spending for the current two-year budget now out of the way, lawmakers can devote their full attention in the final month of the 140-day session to hammering out a final budget for 2014-15.

The House has approved a $93.5 billion budget for the next biennium that boosts spending across the board by 7 percent. This week, the Senate approved taking $5.7 billion from the state's rainy-day fund for water and roads projects, as well as public schools.

Under the Senate plan, nearly 70 percent of the $5.4 billion that lawmakers slashed from classrooms in 2011 would be restored starting this fall.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, tried squeezing in an amendment Friday to give district attorneys in Texas a one-time $7,500 payout for security, after the killing of two Kaufman County prosecutors this year. He withdrew the effort after lawmakers questioned cutting money earmarked for judges to pay for his idea.

"It's just a one-time 'Go buy a gun, go buy a monitoring system for your house,'" said Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston. "But it's not going to be there the next session, the next session, the next session. I just really think you're putting us in a very bad position."

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