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Texas House Debating More Than 170 Amendments to CSSB 1

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

House members are currently debating more than 170 amendments to the Committee Substitute for SB 1, the General Appropriations bill.

Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), offered up his committee substitute on the House floor, and then had other members of the committee describe funding for each of the articles in the bill. Debate ranged from serious to light-hearted, and at one point, Rep. Fred Brown (R-College Station) taped an 8 X 10 photograph of State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn on the podium from which he spoke. The House leadership is at odds with Strayhorn over her recent revelation that HB 3, the property tax reduction and school finance bill, does not achieve a balance between state revenue raised and the proposed property tax reduction.

When he laid out the bill, Pitts told House members it represents a "sound budget which meets the basic needs of the state." He applauded the bipartisan efforts that went into the crafting of the substitute. "Some Texans will think we're not spending enough. Some Texans will think we're spending too much. The Appropriations Committee believes we the budget is just right." He said it reflects the state's priorities, and addresses the state's needs within available revenue. "We're living within our means," he said, citing "significant" increases in funds for key priorities that include public education, health care and public safety.

While the budget addresses the priority needs of the state, Pitts said it at the same time eliminates some state agencies and reduces or eliminates "unnecessary, duplicative and wasteful spending."

To put those claims into perspective, Pitts said in 2001 the legislature passed a budget for the 2002-03 biennium that included $48 billion in funding for education and $34 billion for health and human services. The current proposal includes $57 billion for education and $48 billion for health and human services, he said, representing a $9 billion increase for Texas schools and a $14 billion increase for health and human services in just four years.

Pitts said that means a 25 percent larger appropriation for health and human services than was allocated in 2001. And compared to the last legislative session's budget, General Revenue funding for public schools has increased 19.5 percent. The increase for health and human services spending has increased 16.5 percent and public safety and criminal justice funding increases by 5.4 percent. "This budget appropriates 94 cents of every General Revenue dollar to the state's top priorities - education, health and criminal justice," said Pitts, noting that it also draws down an additional $3 billion in federal funds over and above federal funds drawn down during the last biennium.

What's not in the bill, said the Appropriations chair, is the emergency funding appropriated through HB 10. He said that legislation includes additional revenue immediately for meeting certain emergencies and critical needs of the state.

The budget bill meets the state's basic needs for the next two years, said Pitts, and "ensures the state of Texas lives within her means." It also represents record education and health care funding, representing "our state's top priorities."

"This is a strong, a sound, and a responsible spending bill," said Pitts. "This bill meets the basic needs and spends billions of dollars to improve our public schools, our health care and our public safety."