The Texas Senate approved a $3.97 billion draw on the state's Rainy Day Fund to cover a deficit of the same size in the current budget, but not before rejecting efforts to add on a larger amount to help balance the 2012-13 budget.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, matched the size of the withdrawal to the size of the current deficit. But he asked the Senate to use more of the fund than the House used, casting aside other revenue sources that were in that chamber's mix. If that prevails, it would mean a bigger draw on the Rainy Day Fund and would make an additional $855.9 million available for the next budget.
Democrats made a couple of attempts to withdraw more money. Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat and a former chairman of Senate Finance, wanted to add $3 billion to the amount in Ogden's proposal, saying it would "negate the need for reckless cuts to programs that are vital to Texas families." He said his amendment wouldn't increase the size of the budget already approved by the Senate (on a straight party-line vote, with Democrats in the opposition), but would make sure that the available money matches the amount senators want to spend.
"The Rainy Day Fund is being held hostage to politics," Ellis said.
But Ogden said the bill — HB 275 — isn't supposed to finance the next budget. He limited the size of the draw on the savings account to the size of the deficit in the current budget. "I'm using the Rainy Day Fund for a single purpose, and that is to cover the current deficit," he said. And he said Ellis should wait for another bill that's in the legislative pipeline — HB 4 — to make his pitch for using more of the state's savings. Ellis' amendment failed 18-13, with all of the Democrats voting for it, and all but one Republican — Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio — voting against it.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, made a similar suggestion, asking for $1.1 billion to be used to increase allotments to public schools. He withdrew the amendment after a conversation with Ogden, saying he'll bring it up later.