House budget not without its own gimmicks


State Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, presides as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
State Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, presides as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. AP

The Texas House of Representatives is following on the heels of the state Senate with a 2018-19 state budget.

Both are limping after being hit by a sharp drop in available funds.

Appropriations Committee members unanimously approved the House plan Wednesday, with a floor vote in the lower chamber expected next week. The Senate adopted its plan on Tuesday.

They’re not far apart on how much to spend. The House would allocate $218.2 billion from all sources of revenue, while the Senate would spend $217.7 billion.

The more significant difference is in how each proposal would allocate general revenue, the part of the budget over which lawmakers have the most decision-making power.

Again, the bottom lines are not far apart. The House would spend $106.8 billion in general revenue, and the Senate $106.3 billion.

The bad news is that Comptroller Glenn Hegar says only $104.9 billion in general revenue is available. Making up the difference is where the House and Senate are expected to do battle.

The House would withdraw $2.5 billion from the savings account known as the Rainy Day Fund (current balance $10.2 billion; expected balance in 2019, $12 billion). Senators don’t want to touch the savings.

The Senate would rather use a budget gimmick, borrowing $2.5 billion from money allocated for highway spending and paying it back in 2020. House leaders say that’s “cooking the books.”

But the House budget is not without its own gimmickry. It gets a $1.9 billion bump by delaying a payment to public schools by a month.

The real head-scratcher is a House scheme to cut $1 billion in state funding from Medicaid, bringing about an additional $1.4 billion drop in federal funding.

Somehow in the black box that is the federal-state Medicaid funding formula, that $2.4 billion drop is not expected to impact the children, pregnant women and people with disabilities who depend on Medicaid.

“I am absolutely confident that services won’t be compromised, that quality won’t be compromised,” Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, told The Texas Tribune.

House and Senate budget writers must work out their differences by May 29, when the session ends.