5/16/2011 4:11 PM
The Texas Senate today voted to spend about $800 million more from the Rainy Day Fund for the current biennium than the House authorized.
The Senate passed the committee substitute to HB 275 today by a vote of 30-1. It spends $3.97 billion from the Rainy Day, plugging the revised revenue hole projected by Comptroller Susan Combs.
Originally the comptroller had estimated the state was about $4.3 billion short of what it would need to fund state programs through the end of the current biennium. Recently she revised that number down $3.97 billion.
The House earlier this session authorized the appropriation of $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for the current biennium.
Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) offered an amendment to take an additional $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. He said that instead of finding more revenue, Texas has chosen to "cut vital services" that "cut Texas families to the bone." He said it was time for the House and Senate to reverse course on the budget.
Senate Finance Chairman and bill sponsor Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) asked Ellis to consider that the bill was essential because it had to cover the current biennial deficit. Ogden said the more appropriate vehicle to add $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for the next biennium would be HB 4, the supplemental appropriations bill. Ellis' amendment was tabled.
Ogden said he was focusing the RDF on a single purpose of covering the current deficit, rather than comingling current and future needs. Ogden moved to table the amendment and said that HB 4 would be coming to the floor.
Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) tried to amend the bill to take another $1.1 billion out of the fund, in order to fund half of student growth for the next biennium, based on figures from the Legislative Budget Board, he said. But he pulled his amendment down, saying he would bring it back up when HB 4 came to the floor.
"The sole purpose for this bill in my mind today is to cover the current biennial deficit," Ogden said.
Ogden said eventually the Senate must pass HB 4 as well because there are some appropriations that have to be made in the current biennium, including fires in West Texas, shortfalls in correctional managed healthcare, and health and human services funding.
"The Texas House has shown that the current biennium’s budget can be balanced with taking only $3.1 billion from the rainy day fund," Talmadge Heflin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Fiscal Policy, said following passage. "We encourage the House to hold firm on that amount."
"I guess taxpayers are supposed to take solace that the Senate's take from the RDF wasn't as bad as it could have been," said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, referring to the body's rejection of Ellis' amendment.