AUSTIN — Senate Bill 1, a $175 billion version of the 2012-2013 state budget, was approved on April 21 by the Senate Finance Committee before both houses of the Texas Legislature recessed for Easter break.
In simple contrast to the $164 billion state budget the Houseapproved on April 1, the Senate Finance Committee’s version would spend billions of dollars more on public education and health care. SB 1 dredges for non-tax revenue and employs accounting shifts that make $5 billion more available in addition to an infusion of about $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
Although the Senate Finance Committee’s proposal seems opulent next to the House’s $164 billion proposal, both plans give the statefar less to run on than the 2010-2011 current state budget of $182billion.
A current revenue shortfall caused the Legislature this spring to obligate a portion of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. With reservations, Gov. Rick Perry allowed it, but said he would not let the House or Senate tap the fund to shore up 2012-2013 state budget. So conflict lies ahead with the proposed SB 1 taking another $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
F. Scott McCown, executive director of the non-partisan Austin think-tank Center for Public Policy Priorities, said, “no one should pretend that the Senate budget meets the needs of Texas. And no one should pretend that the Senate budget is the best choice in a tough economy. The Legislature has better choices.”
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chair of the Senate Education Committee, has a bill that would manage SB 1’s $4 billion in education cuts. “No single school district takes such a drastic cut that their operations would be irreparably harmed,” Shapiro said.
A floor debate on SB 1 is expected this week. If the full Senate passes SB 1, it will move to the House for consideration.
To help balance future state budgets, the Legislature must find a way to cure the state’s structural revenue deficit that comes from:property tax relief enacted in 2005, the underperforming business margins tax that was created to compensate for the property tax relief, on top of a multi-year economic slowdown. Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said if the structural deficit isn’t dealt with, the state could be $8 billion short on education funding in the 2014-2015 biennium.
Meanwhile, the House set 5 p.m. April 25 as the deadline for members to submit proposed amendments for something just as pressing as the state budget: the redistricting bill, scheduled forfloor debate on Wednesday, April 27.
Texas gets education dollars
The U.S. Department of Education last week approved Texas’application for $830 million in federal funding for Texas schools, which had been stalled in Washington for the past nine months as a result of an amendment to the federal education jobs bill by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett forcing Gov. Perry to dedicate the funds to education alone.
Congress recently passed a budget bill that included a repeal ofDoggett’s amendment.
Drought prompts prayer days
Texas’ drought is shaping up to rival Dust Bowl-like conditions of the 1930s. Related wildfires that now plague the state make it even worse.
In light of such conditions, Gov. Perry proclaimed the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24 as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.
“I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life,” Perry’s proclamation stated.
Data exposure fix continues
In mid-April, State Comptroller Combs announced that the personal data of 3.5 million current and former state employees had been exposed via a portal on her agency’s public Internet site. On April 20 announced another follow-up measure.
Combs said a private company, CSIdentity Protector, is offeringto affected individuals one year of fraud-related assistance for $29.95. The service includes credit monitoring, Social Security number protection, Internet surveillance and $10,000 of identity theft insurance and other services.
Employment increases in March
Texas’ total nonfarm employment increased by 37,200 jobs in March, making the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for themonth 8.1 percent, down from 8.2 percent in February. The U.S. unemployment rate for March stood at 8.8 percent.