Texas House passes $193.8B budget

The Texas House passed a biennial budget late Thursday that includes $93 billion in state spending for 2014–15, a 7 percent increase in spending from the last two years that restores some deep cuts made during the 2011 legislative session.

The recent oil and gas boom in Texas has left the state relatively flush with cash, a shift from two years ago when the lawmakers faced a historic shortfall.

The cost to run Texas for the next two years come to $193.8 billion, which includes $101 billion in dedicated federal money and $2.5 billion restored to public schools—about half of what lawmakers cut from public education last session.

The House passed the budget by a vote of 135-12. The budget now goes to a conference committee with the Senate to hammer out differences between the two chambers' versions. The Senate passed a $195 billion budget in March.

"We've been able to restore significant portions of last session's cuts," said House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who oversees the budget. "We've not done so recklessly, and we have not replaced every dollar removed from last session."

The budget is a "significant first step" in the right direction, said Houston Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner, and shows that the state is ready to climb out of the financial dark hole in recent years. He pointed to $260 million in funds for mental health services and the education funding as the major victories for the budget.

Some Democrats said the budget does not go nearly far enough to serve the basic needs of Texans, especially children.

"The best way to grow our economy is to invest in our infrastructure, our children's education, and our future," said Democratic Rep. Armando Walle. "Unfortunately, this budget limits our potential for job creation and fails to invest enough in education and health care to truly improve our future."

Democrats also expressed disappointment that the House voted against an amendment that would have created an opportunity for Medicaid expansion.

The Democrats acknowledged that they did not lose every battle, however.

The House voted overwhelmingly to uphold an amendment by a Coastal Bend Democrat that barred any public education money from going into private school vouchers or tax credits for private institutions that offer scholarships for public school students.