House Budget Writers Back $500 Million More for Schools

House budget leaders voted Thursday to send a supplemental budget bill to the House floor with $500 million more for public schools and payments to state agencies to cover costs related to last year’s wildfires.

The $874.9 million bill will add to the total cost of the state’s current two-year budget, which ends in August. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

Along with extra money for school districts, the bill includes more than $170 million — spread out among different state and local agencies — to reimburse costs related to last year’s wildfires. Most of the money, $161 million, would come out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund and would go to the Texas A&M Forest Service. The budget bill also includes $170 million in Medicaid funding.

Before Thursday’s vote, some committee members expressed concern about $19.5 million in the bill allocated for the state to purchase the Jones County Secure Detention Facility. County officials invested tens of millions of dollars in the facility, which was completed in 2010, under the impression that the state was prepared to fill it with inmates. Because of unexpected drops in its prison population, the state opted to never implement its contract. Ever since, county officials have struggled to decide what to do with the unused jail and to pay for its upkeep.

“There are needs that are being left on the table,” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, in explaining why he was unhappy that the provision was still in the supplemental budget bill. State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, said more should have been done to sell the facility to the private sector.

State Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, who represents Jones County, said the state had a responsibility for the facility.

“I don’t know if this is a moral issue, but I think this is a situation where the state entered into an agreement and it was not held up,” King said.

House Bill 1025 is the second supplemental budget bill lawmakers plan to pass this session. In March, Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 10, a $6.6 billion measure that mostly addressed a large shortfall in the Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program programs.

 

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