Texas House debates largest budget in state history

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It promises to be a late night at the Capitol as the Texas House debates its budget for the next two years. Lawmakers are deciding how to spend $210 billion of your money. Members expect the debates to go until 2 a.m. They know all the laws they pass are just words unless they have the money to back them up, which makes this process so important.

This is the day a lot of items can slip in or out of the budget. Here are some examples:

No “Vouchers”

“To make sure that the funding for public schools is there,” said Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown. He will try and force in an amendment that would not allow any state money to go to private schools. That’s in stark contrast to the Senate’s “voucher” plan to let families use public money to help their children go to a school they choose. Representatives supportive of vouchers say his plan is too cut and dry and might leave students with special needs behind. Rep. Herrero disagrees, he said this will put public education first.

“Before we start diverting funds that are public to go to private institutions, let’s make it the priority that it needs to be first,” said Rep.Herrero.

Last session the House forbid state money for private schools by nearly 100 votes. A vote is expected on his amendment late Tuesday night.

Incentive Funds

Should the government pick winners and losers and pay big companies to bring jobs to Texas? During Tuesday’s budget process, lawmakers suggested several incentive programs be cut.

In discussions about the somewhat controversial Texas Enterprise Fund, Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster cited a letter from Toyota, who received $40 million to move to their headquarers to North Texas.

“Representative Springer, if you gave me $40 million I’d write you a letter to to say it helps,” said Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, who doesn’t believe this practice goes by free market principles. Springer then reminded Rinaldi how many companies are in Rinaldi’s district and received money from the fund.

“Health management systems, authentitex, are all in your district or around your district, you’re aware of those,” said Rep. Springer to Rinaldi, who eventually won the day.

“119 ays to 22 nays, the motion to table prevails,” said Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as he threw down his gavel. The money that lures businesses to come to Texas stays in the House budget.

If lawmakers approve the current proposal, spending will have increased by more than 20 percent in just two sessions. Back in 2011 — the year of many cuts — lawmakers passed a budget worth $172 billion. Two years later — more revenue brought more spending — with a nearly $197 billion budget. This year’s budget sits at nearly $210 billion, that’s a 21.7 percent increase in four years.

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