House Democrats are applauding the Senate's delay in taking up what they call a “woefully inadequate” appropriations bill.
Thousands of teachers will be given pink slips, thousands of students will lose health insurance and thousands of elderly Texans will be kicked from nursing homes to the curb, said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “But where is the outcry?" he asked. "At some point, it’s going to dawn on folks this problem is real and not going away."
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, announced this morning that he still doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate’s version of House Bill 1, and attempted multiple maneuvers in the chamber today to increase general revenue in order to avoid more cuts. “The only other alternative is to start cutting,” he said.
Across the hall, House Democrats gathered to say the holdup is good — and that it might take a special session to draw enough attention to how bad the projected cuts really are. "We make better decisions when more people are watching us," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.
He encouraged “senators to continue to stand strong” and not pass a budget that “falls short of where we need to be.”
In its current form, the Senate version of the appropriations bill uses $12 billion more funding than the House version and draws money from the Rainy Day fund — something some Republicans are loath to do.
But taking just $3 billion from the Rainy Day fund, which the Senate budget draft does, would still leave Texas dry, Villarreal said. He said the Legislature should consider other options, like “scrubbing our tax code” to eliminate tax breaks he says Texas can no longer afford.
Ogden offered other options on the Senate floor today — raising fees, cutting jury pay and beefing up the Permanent School Fund — but not all of the measures passed. One measure that was approved: a temporary constitutional amendment that would temporarily increase the market value of the Permanent School Fund, allowing the state to pull more money from the Available School Fund. It could increase general revenue by $184 million, Ogden said.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, encouraged his colleagues to vote against the measures, saying “it’s not truth in budgeting” to collect fees dedicated for one purpose and then to use them to balance the budget in other ways.
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