AUSTIN — The major components of a state spending plan fell into place Sunday as $2 billion in state water funding won legislative approval and the House signed off on a Senate-passed $197 billion budget to run state government for the next two years.The flurry of votes cemented a carefully negotiated budget compromise that appeared in doubt just days earlier and completed lawmakers’ most fundamental task as they headed into the last day of work before adjourning Monday.Whether the state’s citizens-legislators go home after that, however, remained in question. A special session that could keep them in Austin for up to 30 more days remained a strong possibility as lawmakers face legislative overtime to deal with redistricting and other potential issues.Working through the second day of a weekend session, House and Senate members plowed through a host of remaining issues — both big and small — as they neared the end of a 140-day biennial session that saw the introduction of more than 8,000 bills, most of which fell by the wayside.A bill authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to crack down on Medicaid fraud won Senate passage and headed to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers also endorsed bills allowing utility rate rebates for low-income Texans and permitting concealed handgun-license holders to keep firearms and ammunition in cars parked on college campuses.The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, also appeared close to be gaining a new lease on life under a compromise that would keep the it operating under another four years. Just days earlier, the 122-year-old agency appeared in danger of going out of existence effective Sept. 1.As adjournment day approached, lawmakers displayed lighthearted moments, making jokes from the floor and circulating autographed photos to take home as keepsakes from the 83rd Legislature.In contrast to the more combative sessions of 2009 and 2011, this year’s Legislature was sometimes jokingly referred to as the “kumbaya session” because of the relative absence of partisan warfare.Republican freshmen, many of them backed by the Tea Party, made a point of wearing purple ties and other apparel Thursday to show nonpartisan harmony between Democratic blue and Republican red.Nevertheless, there was no lack of philosophical showdowns, particularly as lawmakers moved toward dealing with the cluster of must-pass budget items to operate state government, bolster education and address major infrastructure needs that Perry and legislative leaders cited as top priorities when the session began in mid-January.The House and Senate gave near-simultaneous approval to HB 1025, a $5.4 billion supplemental budget that includes nearly $4 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund, including $2 billion to start a state-run revolving fund to implement the state’s long-range water plan.Voters will decide in November whether to create the water-development bank, which would be managed by the Texas Water Development Board. Perry and legislative leaders identified water as a paramount issue in this year’s session, calling for urgent action to deal with a growing water shortage that threatens to reverse the state’s robust economic trajectory.Although some Tea Party Republicans in the House opposed tapping into the rainy-day fund, HB 1025 cleared the chamber on a vote of 110-29, exceeding the 100-vote supermajority needed to pass the measure.Withdrawals from the rainy-day fund, also known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, require a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Senators passed HB 1025 by a vote of 28-3 with no debate.After clearing the supplemental budget, which deals with spending for the current biennium, House leaders moved to secure passage of SB 1, the main budget that will run state government for the 2014-15 biennium.In contrast to the $15 billion in cuts made by lawmakers in 2011 in the aftermath of the national recession, the 2014-15 budget increases spending by 3.7 percent and includes $3.4 billion in new education funding, reversing many of the education cuts made by lawmakers two years ago.Education spendingTotal increases in education spending, including $200 million in the supplemental bill, amount to nearly $4 billion, marking a major victory for Democrats, who made restoration of their spending cuts a top priority this year.The budget also includes a total 3 percent pay raise for state employees and boosts pensions for retired teachers and state employees.Conservatives both inside and outside the government opposed the proposed spending increase. Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, announced that he planned to oppose SB1 in what he said would be his first vote against an appropriations bill.“I could not sleep last night,” the Parker County lawmaker said. “When you look at $197 billion ... that's a lot of money.”Nelson’s bill to cut down on waste fraud and abuse in Medicaid was a major element in her legislative portfolio this session. Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, also sponsored legislation to restructure the Cancer Prevention and Research Institution of Texas (CPRIT) after a scancal over alleged favoritism in the awarding of cancer research grants.Nelson said that her Medicaid bill would set up a unit in the state’s health department that would “identify anomalies and red flags” that would suggest potential abuse.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery