the republic logo

Texas House nears passing $210B budget that would ramp up border security, boost road funding

bug
Share/Save/Bookmark

AUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers in the Texas House slogged through negotiations Tuesday night over the first state budget under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, moving him a step closer to putting hundreds more armed troopers at the Texas-Mexico border and giving social conservatives more abstinence education funding.

Debate over the $210 billion spending plan was on track to stretch past midnight before its expected passage by the GOP-controlled Texas House.

With two months left in the first legislative session under Abbott, the biggest tax cuts in Texas in a decade are in the pipeline and some measure of relief for congested highways has wide support. Gone is a trough of taxpayer dollars for risky corporate startups and money to test high school athletes for steroids — both quickly dismantled fixtures of former Gov. Rick Perry's 14 years in office.

Calls to abolish film incentives that subsidized a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader reality show and efforts to research equal pay at state agencies fizzled as the House churned through 350 proposed budget amendments. Collecting school data on bullying in Texas schools, including against gay and transgendered students, also failed.

Republicans muscled past proposed changes from outnumbered Democrats and easily passed their own, including cutting $3 million from programs to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and redirecting that money instead to abstinence education.

"What's good for me is good for a lot of people," said Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a doctor who defended his proposal by recounting his own abstinence until marriage.

Another Republican-sponsored amendment that passed Tuesday night would prevent schools from distributing sex education materials from abortion providers.

Republicans swatted down attempts to even slightly nibble at a half-billion dollars earmarked for Abbott's border security plan, which has already passed the House. The budget is Abbott's biggest canvass to start leaving his own mark, but there's a long way to go.

Abbott has made improving prekindergarten in Texas public schools his signature education proposal, but school districts have been underwhelmed by his plan, which wouldn't extend programs to a full day or reduce student-to-teacher ratios. The original price tag on his plan — $130 million a year — is also less than what Texas had offered through a grant program eliminated in 2011 during steep budget cuts.

The House printed up the budget without funding the pre-K plan, with Republican budget writers saying the proposal was still evolving.

"We're going to have an opportunity to craft what pre-K looks like in the state of Texas. We're going to continue to work on all of the options we already have," said Republican state Rep. Trent Ashby, a House budget writer.

Education went on to emerge as an early budget battleground, with Democratic proposals to double an extra $800 million in classroom funding faltering.

"Why wouldn't you put public education on the wish list?" Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said.

Bigger flare-ups between Republicans are likely ahead.

Both the House and Senate have outlined tax cut packages — another priority for Abbott — that top $4 billion. But there is disagreement on how to get there, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's plan in the Senate calling for a property tax break that would save the average homeowner about $200 a year. The House could favor a lower sales tax instead.

In the hallway outside, lobbyists hovered near the House doors and waited for lawmakers to exit, while Republicans inside defended leaving $8 billion in available funds on the sideline.

"This allows us plenty of room to negotiate with the Senate, and for tax cuts," said Republican state Rep. John Otto, the House's lead budget writer.

The Senate has yet to pass its budget, and spending differences between the chambers will consume much of the final weeks of the Legislature before the budget reaches Abbott's desk.


Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pauljweber

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

Story copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Feedback, Corrections and Other Requests: AP welcomes feedback and comments from readers. Send an email to info@ap.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate editor or reporter.


All content copyright ©2015 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.