Long night ahead as Texas House hammers out budget

State Rep. Jason Villalba with his famous candy jar as the House debates the budget on April 6, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
State Rep. Jason Villalba with his famous candy jar as the House debates the budget on April 6, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — It’s going to be a late night at the Texas State Capitol. With a $6 billion shortfall, the Texas House is working on what the budget will look like for the next two years.

There are about 400 proposed budget amendments. Some will result in votes on this session’s most controversial issues.

Key lawmakers expect to be on the floor until 3 a.m. Friday, as many try to tack on measures that don’t have a good chance of passing normally this session.

Rep. Drew Springer wants to shift money away from any city or county supporting abortion providers. “The voters have really told us they do not want to see that their tax dollars go to this. They know that it is legal but they do not want to fund it in anyway.”

That amendment will be opposed by nearly every Democrat. Like the idea of cutting funds from any university offering in-state tuition to people who came here illegally. Rep. Gene Wu says they’ll stay vigilant.

“It’s about making a show. A lot of Republicans want to make sure that they look good in front of their primary voters,” Wu said.

Lawmakers plan on staying through the night to ensure something they disagree with doesn’t sneak in when no one is looking.

Here are some of the big ticket items that are getting funded or cut:

Border Money

A costly border security operation is proving largely untouchable. During a key budget vote Thursday, House Democrats were trying unsuccessfully to take dollars earmarked for hundreds of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and National Guard patrols, and put that money instead toward other programs they say are underfunded. But proposals to scale back Texas’ $800 million border operation during a marathon debate appeared largely symbolic.

A KXAN Investigation revealed that very few of the arrests DPS troopers are making on the border are the bad guys they were sent to catch. In fact, most are drunk drivers.

School Vouchers

The Texas House voted to oppose taxpayer dollars going to private and religious schools — expressly forbidding state funding for vouchers. The 103-44 vote came during the House’s larger budget debate and could kill a sweeping “school choice” bill approved by the state Senate last week.

Republicans control both chambers but while many senators see vouchers as a civil rights issue that helps poor children leave failing public schools, the House has repeatedly defeated any proposal that could hurt funding for traditional classrooms.

House Democrats opposing vouchers typically team with Republicans from rural communities, where schools are top employers as well as social centers offering football and other popular activities.

Medicaid 

The House has voted to restore some funding to a Texas Medicaid program providing therapy for disabled children, softening $350 million in cuts that sparked uproar last session. The funding could still be removed since the final House budget will have to be reconciled with the Senate’s budget. The original cuts reduced state reimbursement rates for therapy providers, leaving some children without speech and other therapies. Lawmakers got the extra funding by removing $43 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is overseen by the governor and lures job-creating firms to Texas.

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