Priorities differ in House and Senate as initial budget drafts emerge

There is very little consensus between the Senate and House versions of the 2018-19 state budget proposals released early in the 85th legislative session.


The Senate’s first draft, written by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, accounts for $103.6 billion in spending from the state’s General Revenue Fund, notably below the Comptroller’s Biennial Revenue Estimate, which limited the Legislature to spending $104.89 billion.


The House, on the other hand, calls for spending $108.9 billion from the General Revenue Fund, which would include funds not allotted in the revenue estimate.


Early analysis indicates legislators might need to dip into the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account that sets aside money for when state budget demands exceed estimated revenue. The account currently contains roughly $10 billion and will grow to contain about $14 billion by the end of this session.


Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was the first to propose pulling money from the Rainy Day Fund during a Senate Finance Committee meeting Jan. 23.


“I would emphasize we are not a poor state,” he said. “We have valuable resources that we could call upon, starting with the Rainy Day Fund.”


Both chambers also have differing strategies to tackle school finance fixes. The House plans on fully funding enrollment growth within Texas schools while supplementing public schools with an additional $1.5 billion.


The Senate, alternatively, will add $2.65 billion, which is just enough to account for an additional 160,000 students projected to enter into Texas public schools in the next two years.


Aside from increased funds to public finance and mental health care, both chambers are also proposing vastly different cuts across the board. The Senate is calling for a 1.5 percent funding decrease for every state agency, excluding public education. The House is calling for a less severe cut of less than 1 percent across the state.


Both sides seek additional funds for Child Protective Services, proposing roughly $260 million in the next biennium—which is surprising, according to some insiders, given the fact both chambers balked when CPS requested $53 million extra in October.


The House and Senate typically start with their own draft budgets before hearing testimony on the proposals at the committee level. Both chambers then join in a conference committee to establish a unified budget that will fund state activity for the next two years.


Priorities differ in House and Senate as initial budget drafts emerge