The $176 billion budget passed by the Senate on Wednesday makes cuts to all state agencies but spends about $12 billion more than the House does in its bill. The budget was approved along party lines, with all 19 Republicans voting for it and all 12 Democrats voting against.
The budget had been bottled up because Senate tradition required 21 votes just to bring it up for debate. But that roadblock was by-passed Wednesday, thanks to a Senate rule that allows House bills, like the budget, to come up on a handful of specific days — a move state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, questioned Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst about.
"Has this ever happened with the state's budget, in the history (of the Senate)," Ellis asked. "I'm not advised.
I know that it has occurred numerous times in the past on other important pieces of legislation," Dewhurst replied.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
Democrats argue that if the House version of the budget is "horrific," the Senate's version isn't much better. "We can't put a happy face on this budget," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
Public school funding is still cut in the Senate's bill, as are appropriations for health and human services. But for Dewhurst and the Republicans insist this budget is about continuing the state's economic rebound.
"Our revenues are up almost 11 percent for the first 9 months of 2011," Dewhurst said. "Some two and a half, approximately two and a half billion dollars. So our economy is rebounding. Let's not do anything that slows that rebound."
The bill now heads back to the House and to an anticipated House/Senate conference committee to reconcile the disparity between the two bills.