Politics, Not Just Numbers, in Budget Amendments

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, votes 'aye' to table an amendment regarding HB4 the supplemental appropriations bill on March 31, 2011
Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, votes 'aye' to table an amendment regarding HB4 the supplemental appropriations bill on March 31, 2011

The House will launch Friday morning into a $164.5 billion budget proposal for 2012-13, which is about $23 billion, or 12.3 percent, smaller than the current budget. General revenue funding — which comes mostly from state taxes and fees — would fall $4.6 billion, or 5.2 percent, from current spending. The state's debt service — what it pays on its borrowing in the budget — would rise 18.5 percent, to $3.3 billion, in the proposed budget.

But numbers aren’t all that’s buried in the details of the budget. Lawmakers have filed hundreds of amendments that are largely political objectives, from repealing in-state tuition and financial aid for illegal immigrants to trying to push Planned Parenthood out of the family planning business. 

Here’s a look at the numbers — and the politics — behind what lawmakers are slated to debate.  

Health and Human Services

The House budget underfunds health and human service programs by $4.8 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board — cutting provider rates by an average of 10 percent. That section of the budget, even with the cuts, includes $39.5 billion in total spending, including $16.4 billion in general revenue spending from state funds. Among the proposed health and social services budget amendments:

— Reps. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, and Wayne Christian, R-Center, would reduce funding for the expansion of Medicaid managed care — and Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, wants to make sure managed care isn’t expanded unless federal hospital funding is also preserved.

— Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, wants to take funding from family planning services and redirect it to children’s mental health. Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, wants to ban the Health and Human Services Commission from contracting with clinics that are affiliated with those that provide abortions — a direct swipe at Planned Parenthood. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, wants to do the same thing, by allowing only county and municipal government clinics to provide state family planning services.

— Reps. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas, and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham have offered amendments to keep people with disabilities from moving out of state-supported living centers without proper health practitioners enlisted to help them in the community.

— Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, wants to cut funding to the governor’s trusteed programs for film and music, and redirect that money to HIV and STD treatment.

Education 

Public education spending is almost as big as health and human services, with $34.8 billion in all funds spending, which includes $28.5 billion in general revenue. That's actually more state spending than exists in the current budget, but it leaves schools $7.8 billion short of what they should get under the school finance formulas in state law. The biggest factors in that gap are increased enrollments of about 80,000 students per year, declining property values that affect local school funding, and the use of federal stimulus money in the current budget, which isn't available for the next spending blueprint. To make the numbers work, lawmakers would have to change school funding formulas to cut state and local entitlements by about 11 percent.

Higher education would see cuts of 10 percent in general academic funds and in the formula funding for health-related institutions. The overall budget for higher ed would be $21.1 billion, including $13.6 billion in general revenue. Special items funding for specific programs at various colleges and universities would drop by $253.9 million. Student aid would be cut $357.7 million. And the state would put $254 million less money into group insurance for higher education employees. Among the proposed education amendments:

— Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has an amendment that would make it illegal for any state funds appropriated for higher education to pay for financial aid, in-state tuition or scholarships for illegal immigrants.

— Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, would require a university to create a family and traditional values center if it has a gender and sexuality center "or other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues." 

— Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would transfer $6 million in Texas Education Agency appropriations each year of the biennium to programs that fund prekindergarten. 

—A proposal from Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would slash the commissioner of education's salary by more than 70 percent — from $186,000 to $50,000. 

— Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would move about $928,000 in funding for the Windham School District, the state program that provides education to prison inmates, and distribute it across four community colleges to support a "Bachelor of Applied Technology," the famous $10,000 college degree.

— Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wants to prohibit state money from going to purchase "factually inaccurate" textbooks or instructional materials.

— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, takes aim at private school voucher programs: His amendment would prevent the TEA from using state or federal dollars to support them.

— Flynn has an amendment that would allow districts to institute a temporary moratorium on student assessment during the two school years of the biennium — a plan that's popular with many teachers and administrators who want relief from testing as they cope with budget cuts.

Public Safety 

The budget proposal puts $4.7 billion into adult prisons — almost all of that is general revenue — and the LBB write-up includes this line: "The projected number of incarcerated offenders are not fully funded for fiscal years 2012-13, and TDCJ is expected to exceed capacity by at least 4,700 beds by the end of fiscal year 2013.” Among the criminal justice amendments:  

— Rep. Erwin Cain, R-Como, wants the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to take all of its illegal immigrants who are subject to deportation to the nearest U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement office for "immediate deportation."

— Zedler filed an amendment that would pluck the state's Public Integrity Unit, which is supposed to investigate political corruption, out of the Democratic Travis County District Attorney's office and put it instead in the Republican attorney general's office.

— Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, wants the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education to train police officers in "ethical decision making." Officers would learn how to identify ethical dilemmas, deal with crises and learn basic accountability and police professionalism.

— Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, wants the state to pick up less of the bill for housing Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees. He filed an amendment that would charge employees for maintenance and utilities at state-owned housing.

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