Agenda Texas: Busted Budget Negotiations

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, holds a copy of the state budget on the Senate floor March 20, 2013.
Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, holds a copy of the state budget on the Senate floor March 20, 2013.

Today was supposed to be the day. In the morning, House and Senate budget negotiators announced there would be a meeting at 2 p.m., which many interpreted as the meeting that would unveil the budget agreement.

That didn't happen.

At 2:15, the meeting was delayed until 3. At about 3:30, the meeting was delayed until 5.

To call it a train wreck would be overly dramatic. Messy? Absolutely. Aman Batheja, who covers the state budget for the Tribune, says what’s been holding up a budget agreement shouldn’t surprise anyone.

"They're the three issues that have been sticking points since before the session started," Batheja said. "Everyone knew water, transportation and school funding were going to be the big issues of the session."

As of lunch time Thursday, Republicans and Democrats were about $700 million apart on education funding.

On water, just about everyone agreed on spending $2 billion. But Tea Party Republicans didn't want that money to come out of the state's Rainy Day Fund.

And on transportation, TxDOT wasn't going to get the additional $4 billion it says it needs to maintain roads. But it could get about $500 million to rebuild rural roads that have been overburdened by fracking.

One final budget hiccup came from a Senate rider that would allow for a negotiation of Medicaid expansion.

"The Medicaid rider actually did get put into the budget earlier this week. Very few people noticed it, and yesterday more people started to notice that budget negotiators had put that in," Batheja said. "House Republicans started complaining, and House leadership basically said they weren't going to support it."

It may all seem hopeless, with less than two weeks left in the session. But in the time it's taken you to read this story, everything could have changed — that’s just how fluid end-of-session budget negotiations can be.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send questions for our upcoming segment on the session. It’s not to late to get your suggestion in line. Send it to [email protected] or on Twitter: @AgendaTexas.

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