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LiveBlog: House Debates Rainy Day Bills

We're liveblogging from the House floor, where lawmakers are expected to vote on HB 4 and HB 275, two bills that would balance the Fiscal Year 2011 budget and authorize lawmakers to withdraw $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.

Republican State Reps. (l to r) Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen; James White, R-Woodville, Bryan Hughes, R-Marshall,; and Jim P…

We're liveblogging from the House floor, where lawmakers are expected to vote on HB 4 and HB 275, two bills that would balance the Fiscal Year 2011 budget and authorize lawmakers to withdraw $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. This debate sets the stage for an even bigger task scheduled for Friday: voting on HB 1, the general appropriations bill for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

New to the process? Check out our graphic on the budget cycle in Texas here

Liveblog

by Thanh Tan
House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts is starting to lay out HB 4. It includes $1.5 billion in cuts to the current fiscal year, a supplemental payment of $600 million to school districts, and the money needed to pay off the state's obligations through Aug. 31, 2011. It's connected to HB 275, which will authorize withdrawing money from the Rainy Day Fund.
by Thanh Tan
And here come the amendments... 65 filed for HB 4. Many are repetitive, but this may take a while.
by Thanh Tan
The first amendment filed by Rep. McClendon was tabled by lawmakers.

by Thanh Tan
Amendment #3 just got tabled. On to Amendment #4 by Rep. McClendown, which reduces deductions to UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. "It's a crucial part of San Antonio...and provides multiple learning opportunities to students at UTSA... reductions will affect their ability to recruit" faculty and students.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Otto is warning lawmakers they'll be hearing lots of similar amendments. "As worthy as all these amendments are to try to restore, we cannot piecemeal 'earmark' funds," he says.
by Thanh Tan
Motion to table Amendment #4 passes. Whoa.... all of a sudden Lyle Lovett is in the chamber.
by Thanh Tan
While lawmakers are a bit distracted by Lovett's appearance on behalf of the Texas Horse Association, McClendon is back at the dais to introduce Amendment #5 to eliminate reductions to UT-San Antonio. "By cutting the budget so severely, we are putting that university at risk... to do what we expect them to do," she says.
by Thanh Tan
Lawmakers are now arguing over the disparity of reductions between Texas universities, prompting one lawmaker to declare he wants to find out how universities "south of Austin" compare to universities "north of Austin."
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #5 didn't go anywhere. Rep. Mike Villarreal is up to speak for Amendment #6, which reduces the cut to the organization that oversees a variety of higher ed programs by $6.2 million and finds that money from the governor's trustee programs. "I believe that the priority of making college accessible is so much higher than allowing the governor to pick winners and losers in the free market," he says.
by Thanh Tan
Villarreal says Amendment #6 restores funding for various higher education programs, including primary care residencies, professional nursing students. Villarreal says taxpayers already think they're paying for these programs, but those funds are being "diverted" away from their intended purposes.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, in support of Amendment #6: "Name me something in the governor's trust account that's more important than our students and higher universities?" Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, says the governor saves those funds for potential disasters, criminal justice grants, homeland security, etc. "If that's what you all are defending, I do not believe that the people in the state of Texas would agree with those priorities," Turner says, adding the funds would be taken from the governor's trust account to help provide financial aid to 80,000 college students who stand to lose their TEXAS grants.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #6 is tabled on a party-line vote. On to Amendment #8 by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, to reduce funding for the Pubic Utility Commission of Texas by $86.8 million instead of $63.5 million. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston arguing against it. "The state is taking the money. It's not going to the low-income and the elderly (it's intended for)" and this amendment will take away money that pays for their bills in May, June, July, August and Sept. 2011. Christian responds by saying, "To sit here and not use that money in a crisis situation... is evil on our part."
by Thanh Tan
Turner to Chisum on Amendment #8: The fact of your amendment is you will "turn off the lights" for the poor and the elderly in May, June, July, August and September of this year. "I do not think it's the right thing to do. I don't think it's the compassionate thing to do... we're already reducing they're gonna get. The point of this amendment is to reduce it even more... we didn't touch the governor's trust account, I got that. We're gonna touch the poor and the elderly on their electricity bill? It's not good public policy. It's not right."
by Thanh Tan
Chisum continues to defend Amendment #8: "I just know the PUC has already voted to not use this money" for the poor/elderly, so why would we sit on it instead of using it to save other areas like education, mental health care, nursing homes? Democrats disagree. BREAKING: Chisum is temporarily withdrawing his amendment. There is clapping in the chamber.
by Thanh Tan
A slew of amendments have been withdrawn.
by Thanh Tan
Lawmakers are now discussing Amendment #9, which proposes restoring funding to colleges. Again, the motion is tabled.
by Thanh Tan
We're now on Amendment #10 from Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, which would set aside any additional revenue collected beyond FY'10--11 levels for the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Opponents say any excess revenue should be added to the general budget. The motion to table the amendment just passed, so it's not going anywhere.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #11 is similar to #10, except it applies to the School for the Deaf. Again, the motion to table the amendment prevails.
by Thanh Tan
Amendments #12 and #13 take money from the governor's mansion restoration project (projected to be $8.9 million by Aug. 31, 2011) to restore funding for the School for the Deaf and the School for the Bilind and Visually Impaired. The body voted to table both amendments.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #14 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, is contingency based and says any new money that may be collected will go to the Health and Human Services Commission to cover the shortfall for Medicaid.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #14 was tabled. On to Amendment #16, which puts in a "low-impact hiring freeze" through natural attrition (NOT lay-offs). As that occurs through the summer months, state agencies wouldn't fill those positions unless the director determines the job(s) are essential to "prevent an emergency related to the agency's public purposes." They'd have to notify the LBB and the governor's office, and provide information that may be requested relative to that re-hiring decision.
by Thanh Tan
Democrats are warning about the possible "unintended consequences" in Amendment #16, because a lot of state agencies need to fill empty positions to bring in revenue for the state.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #15 and #16 were adopted. Amendment #17 on Medicaid waivers was tabled. Amendment #18, which would restore reductions in classroom instructional services if the comptroller collects more revenue than expected, was just tabled.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #22 to restore any additional revenue collected by the comptroller to the Department of Aging and Disability Services is tabled. Amendment #23 up for discussion now. Like other Democratic-backed amendments, this one is contingency-based and would restore funding for several state agencies. Motion to table passes.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #24 is being withdrawn. It proposed taking unexpended balances from the governor's mansion restoration fund to restore cuts to Sul Ross State University and Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Lon Burnam's Amendment #25 funds one school teacher ($35,000) from governor's mansion fund as a 'symbolic act'. Continues to refer to Perry as living a "lavish" lifestyle complete with a pool and "pool boys."
by Thanh Tan
Majority of lawmakers just voted to table Amendment #25. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth, to the body: "Unfortunately, the majority party has prevailed again and again."
by Thanh Tan
Majority of lawmakers just voted to table Amendment #25. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Ft. Worth, to the body: "Unfortunately, the majority party has prevailed again and again."
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is proposing Amendment #26, which would restore some funding to UT-San Antonio by taking from any unexpended balances appropriated for the Office of the Governor, Office of the Attorney General, and the State Preservation Board.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #26 is tabled.
by Thanh Tan
Castro is now debating in favor of Amendment #28, which restores funding to the Higher Education Coordinating Board in the case the comptroller collects more revenue than expected between now and Aug. 31, 2011.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #26 is tabled. At this point, it's obvious the amendments proposed by the Democrats aren't going anywhere. Their single victory is getting Rep. Christian to withdraw his motion to make bigger cuts to the PUC. We've seen a party-line vote on just about every motion. This reporter will be back in 15 minutes. Watch our live feed of the debate at http://www.texastribune.org/.
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #29, also from Rep. Castro, would restore funding for TEXAS grants for college students by taking from any unused funds from the offices of the governor, the Preservation Board, the attorney general, the Texas Legislature, and the comptroller. "Either we can choose them, or choose the kids of Texas," Castro says.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock says cutting the TEXAS grants for the remainder of FY 2011 is about paying the state's bills. "You understand that you're hurting peoples' lives and their future by" making these cuts, says Castro. Aycock responded by saying he knows it's going to be tough for a lot of people, "including myself."
by Thanh Tan
A lighter moment in the debate. Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr., D-Houston, just asked whether the audience in the public gallery is here for gambling, because they might be willing to bet the majority of the votes on these amendments will hover around 101-49 (which is the R/D split).
by Thanh Tan
Amendment #30 is tabled. Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, proposed restoring some funding for higher education.
by Thanh Tan
After fierce debate and strong comments from Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Rep. Ken Paxton withdrew his amendment to cut state salaries. The closing arguments have begun for HB 4.
by Thanh Tan
The House just voted on HB 4: 100 ayes, 46 nays. Another party-line vote
by Thanh Tan
House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts is outlining HB 275. It doesn't use any of the Rainy Day Fund in the next biennium. It appropriates ONLY the amount needed to address the current fiscal year's shortfall. When you subtract about $1 billion in cuts, that leaves the state short about $3.1 billion (which would be covered by the RDF).
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Sylvester Turner is proposing an amendment to restore the amount taken from the Rainy Day Fund back to $4.2 billion. That would leave about $5.2 billion in the account. Why? "90% of Texans don't want nursing homes closed. What we're taking from the Rainy Day Fund will not keep the nursing homes open. They will close, and over 50,000 elderly and disabled will have to go home or go somewhere else," Turner says.
by Thanh Tan
"I know 90% of Texans aren't Democrats, but 90% of Texans do not want their nursing homes closed, and you're not going to keep them open just pulling $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.... this amendment takes you where you need to be," says Rep. Turner. "You have to use more. Otherwise, let me propose this-- take ownership of the cuts. Take ownership. Say it to the people of the state of Texas!"
by Thanh Tan
$4.3 billion was the original amount the House Appropriations considered taking from the Rainy Day Fund. Vote to table Turner's motion is 97-49.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, is proposing an amendment to increase the withdrawal from the RDF from $3.1 billion to $3.7 billion to restore cuts to the Veteran's Commission, universities and junior/community colleges.
by Thanh Tan
In his final argument, Rep. Coleman says the Rainy Day Fund has been drained before and it will continue to grow. House votes 96-49 to table the amendment. Next amendment by Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, moves money into the Foundation School Program for public schools. It would increase withdrawal from the RDF from $3.1 to $3.2 billion. House Budget Committee Chair Jim Pitts moves to table it.
by Thanh Tan
"It's about kids across Texas who deserve the opportunity to go go a top flight public school," Gallegos says about his amendment. "How many of you ran on a platform of cutting public schools? This is your chance to put it back."
by Thanh Tan
Gallegos' amendment goes down by a vote of 97-48. Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, is making another motion to restore some funding to community colleges. Bill sponsor Pitts says the cuts have already been instituted, so he moves to table it. By a vote of 97-48, it's tabled.
by Thanh Tan
Lawmakers just tabled the ninth amendment to HB 275. Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, has attempted four times to withdraw from the Rainy Day Fund to reduce reductions to higher education (Texas A&M, UT-San Antonio). She says those institutions need to be able to recruit and retain faculty. "This is how we build the economy in Texas and not tear it down," she says. All four measures have been tabled. On to the twelfth amendment from Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.
by Thanh Tan
A few more amendments by Democrats rejected by the House. Meanwhile, Gov. Perry just released a statement on the preliminary passage of HB 4. “Today’s action by the House on HB 4 demonstrates a commitment to the fiscally responsible government Texans have called for," Perry says. "I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to live within our means and fund our state’s priorities without raising taxes, while laying the foundation for continued job creation and our state’s future prosperity.”
by Brandi Grissom
Final speeches starting on HB275.Getting close to the finish line.
by Brandi Grissom
Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, asks whether Democrats' amendments will have any better chances tomorrow on the budget bill.
by Brandi Grissom
Davis: "We want to participate in a positive way."
Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, says committee had more than 200 hours of testimony.
"I think we had an open process," he says.
by Thanh Tan
HB 275 just passed 142-2.
by Thanh Tan
The two no votes came from Reps. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, and Rep. Barbara Mallory-Caraway, D-Dallas.
by Thanh Tan
House is adjourned till tomorrow morning. They'll debate HB 1. Good night!
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