The Brief: Top Texas News for March 21, 2013

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, during debate over the state budget bill on March 20, 2013.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, during debate over the state budget bill on March 20, 2013.

The Big Conversation

In a marked departure from 2011, the state Senate on Wednesday passed a two-year budget with relative ease.

As the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports, the chamber voted 29-2 in favor of a $195.5 billion two-year budget that spends 7.7 percent more in general revenue than the budget approved in 2011, when the state faced a record shortfall.

The new budget would restore some of the public education and health care cuts made last session, as well as expand mental health services and boost pay for state employees by 3 percent.

"We did what we had to do last session, but we can be proud of what’s included in this budget," said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who chairs the Finance Committee.

 

Though Senate Democrats called for more funding to help reverse last session's deep cuts, only two — Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Sylvia Garcia of Houston — voted against the bill. Davis accused Republicans of using the ongoing lawsuit over the state's school finance system, which won't be resolved until after the session, to avoid a debate over education funding, which took a $5.4 million hit last session.

"We are expected to fix the finance problem, and I believe that we can start to do that work today," Davis said.

Still, Davis called the budget writers' work "commendable" given Republicans' resistance to tapping the Rainy Day Fund to fill budget holes — to which Williams responded, "I appreciate your faint praise."

As Texas Monthly's Erica Grieder notes, Democrats' two no votes this year pale next to the drama of the 2011 session, when the Senate passed a budget along party lines, 19-12.

Later this session, the Senate will have to merge its budget with the House's own blueprint, which the lower chamber's appropriations committee is expected to vote on today.

Culled

•    City officials to lawmakers: Leave Austin’s bag ban alone (Austin American-Statesman): "Austin’s recycling director urged the Legislature on Wednesday night to allow the city’s plastic bag ordinance to continue without state interference. Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, told the House Committee on Urban Affairs that he had visited 300 store managers in the past three weeks and that the ban on using the bags is going smoothly."

•    UT System Seeks External Review of Law Foundation (The Texas Tribune): "One day after a lawmaker accused University of Texas System regents of engaging in a 'witch hunt' aimed at University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, the board voted Wednesday during a tense meeting to seek an external review of the university's relationship with the University of Texas Law School Foundation."

•    Texas House erupts in heated debate over 'smart meters' for electricity (The Dallas Morning News): "Health and privacy worries about advanced electric meters surfaced in House debate Wednesday, but most lawmakers rejected impassioned arguments that 'smart meters' pose a danger. 'It’s important to a lot of people that have received meters that they didn’t want,' said the libertarian-leaning Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. 'We don’t know the long-term health effects of these meters.'"

Quote of the Day: "We’ve come a long way, baby, since the last session." — State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, on the Senate budget passed on Wednesday

Must-Read

 

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