7:30 p.m. Thursday update:
The hits just keep on coming. One of the fiscal matters bills critical to the budget got thrown back to the Senate for carrying a concealed weapon; it had been amended there to include legalization of concealed handguns on college campuses. Bills aren't allowed to cover multiple subjects and Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, shot the bill down because of that handgun language.
He issued a press release boasting that he'd killed the handgun provision but also pointing out that the critical "fiscal matters" language can be added easily to another fiscal bill still pending in the House.
Meanwhile, here is some more detail from the House on the status of the budget talks.
House Speaker Joe Straus confirmed late Thursday that House negotiators have agreed to a higher level of public education spending, which means the House will go with a $4 billion cut to schools, not a reduction of almost $8 billion as originally contemplated.
"We are in agreement with the Senate there,” Straus said. “And we are coming up quite a bit. Our first budget, you know, was admittedly bare bones. … On public education specifically, we have no disagreements with the Senate.’’
Officials say the main sticking points remain in higher education and how much to use out of the Rainy Day Fund. House negotiators want to use a lower amount from the fund, about $3.1 billion, instead of roughly $3.9 billion that the Senate wanted. Republicans in the House, elected on a platform of fiscal austerity, are keen on spending as little as possible out of the reserve account.
In the delicate negotiations on the Rainy Day Fund, Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said, “We’re at our number.”
The difference on higher education started at $1 billion and has been whittled to $300 million.
Straus said he was hopeful a deal could be struck but noted that “time is short.”
“We’re trying to get there,” he said.
7:16 p.m. Thursday update:
Now the ball is back in the Senate's court. House Speaker Joe Straus issued this statement a few moments ago:
We appreciate the Senate’s willingness to keep working with us to pass a budget that is fiscally responsible and that does not raise taxes.
When the House passed a balanced, no new taxes budget in April, we said it was a starting point and that we intended to add funds for priorities, including public schools, as those funds became available.
Earlier this week, Comptroller Combs updated her projections of state revenue and House conferees on the budget promptly agreed to put those dollars toward our first priority, our public schools. The additional revenue from the Comptroller and the improving economy have allowed House budget negotiators to find an additional $2 billion to fund public schools and another $1 billion for border security, nursing homes, transportation, and higher education, for a total of $3 billion. We are prepared to enact legislation that will allow us to pay for these priorities within a balanced budget and without raising taxes or further using the Rainy Day Fund.
In any successful negotiation, both sides have to make compromises. The House has gone more than halfway to meet the Senate, and it is now time for the Senate to do its part by making additional spending cuts. I look forward to continuing to work with the Senate and am hopeful that we can pass a budget that lives within our means.
6:50 p.m. Thursday update:
The budget conference committee has agreed to use the Senate's public education numbers, meaning they'll cut current spending $4 billion instead of the $7.8 billion cut that was in the House bill.
They started $1 billion apart on higher education funding and are still gnawing on that.
And the Rainy Day Fund is still in the mix. The Senate used just under $4 billion in Rainy Day money to cover the deficit in the current budget. The House used $3.1 billion and some other measures to close that gap. The difference — about $855 million — is still in contention.
Still out there: Once they've agreed on the spending, the number-crunchers have to make sure they've got the money to spend. That's in the fiscal matters bills that still need to be passed by the House.
3 p.m. Thursday update:
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a few senators just came out of a meeting with Speaker Joe Straus and House budget conferees. Dewhurst said that they had left a budget proposal — with the backing of 19 Republican and two Democratic senators with Straus and it's now in the House's hands.
"I've got my fingers crossed" that the House will accept, Dewhurst told reporters.
Asked whether this would be the final Senate offer, he said that "it was not easy to get 21 signatures on this proposal" and "I don't know how much flexibility we have."
Original story follows:
Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he has been "kind of pushing people" to come together on a Texas state budget that would make significant cuts to public education.
The governor, speaking to reporters outside a ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel, said legislative leaders were moving toward a deal that would avoid a special session. "I don't want to finalize the budget in here with you all — the House and the Senate are going to be who makes the final decision but we're very, very close," he said. "There always is a lot of emotions and what have you, and I've yet to see the perfect budget written," he said. "I'm optimistic at the end of the day, the 30th of May, the 31st of May, that we'll have a budget.
He said the House had moved somewhat closer to the Senate in terms of the total amount to be spent on public education — and are perhaps only $850 million apart at this point. "Eight hundred and fifty million dollars is not chicken feed, but in the grand scheme of a budget, that is the size our budget is, when we're talking about $80 billion of general revenue here, I hope, and I think that cool heads will prevail, and that we won't stumble over the House and the Senate not coming together."
Perry was asked if he was going to provide "cover" to House members who are struggling to support a bigger budget.
"I think the House members have put forward a budget, and actually they've been moved a good bit towards the Senate from the standpoint of the dollars that are being put in," he said. "At the end of the day, we're all going to stand up today and say, 'This is a budget we can be proud of.' If that's the cover they're looking for they'll get it."
"We sat and talked," Perry said when asked about his meetings with legislators in recent days and what he has been doing to bring them together on a budget deal. "As I have done for many legislative sessions, kind of pushing people, cajole, having private meetings..."
Perry said if the U.S. Congress can pass a budget, the Texas Legislature should be able to do it. "The people expect us to get our work done. The last thing I think folks want to go home to is, say, you know even Washington is functioning with a budget, you can't?''