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House Sets Budget Negotiating Rules

The House is sending its five budget conferees — Reps. Jim Pitts, John Otto, Sylvester Turner, John Zerwas and Myra Crownover — off to negotiate with the Senate, but they want to tie their hands on certain issues, instructing them on what's acceptable to add, subtract or leave alone when they talk with the other side.

House Appropriations Committee chairman, State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie (r), listens to debate on HB1 conferee's instr...

The House is sending its five budget conferees — Reps. Jim Pitts, John Otto, Sylvester Turner, John Zerwas and Myra Crownover — off to negotiate with the Senate, but they want to tie their hands on certain issues, instructing them on what's acceptable to add, subtract or leave alone when they talk with the other side.

They've told them — on motions from Reps. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, and Phil King, R-Weatherford, not to use money from the Rainy Day Fund when they negotiate with the Senate, and not to restore funding for family planning service that was deleted in the House. Sending a not-so-nice message to Gov. Rick Perry, the House also agreed to instruct the conferees to go with the Senate's plan to zero out the Emerging Technology Fund and instead dedicate that money to education, nursing homes or other priorities.

Similar motions by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, to zero out the Enterprise Fund and money for film incentives failed.

Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, says members should leave these matters to the conferees, and says the House is making policy on "major issues" without much conversation or debate.

After that, and Hartnett's remarks, they voted against a motion to instruct for the first time in this debate. The idea that failed? A "soft" hiring freeze on state agencies.

Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, asked the House to instruct the negotiators to "fully fund public education." That failed on a vote of 45-86.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, tries to instruct budget conferees regarding fully funding education funding; that goes down.

A couple of other Democrat ideas for instructions failed, too, including a motion by Rep. Long Burnam, D-Fort Worth, to preserve money for nursing homes and to fund enrollment growth in those facilities.

Key to remember about the motions to instruct is, as House Speaker Joe Straus reminded the body, the instructions are "non-binding instructions to the conferees for the House." But, particularly when it comes to the Rainy Day Fund and the family planning funding, the instructions send a message that the House could reject a budget bill that comes back different from the way it went out.

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