After last ditch efforts from Democrats to increase funding for schools through closing tax loopholes and tapping the Rainy Day Fund failed, two budget bills quickly cleared the Senate Friday evening.
Among the proposed Democratic amendments were measures to reinstate the inheritance tax and end the high-cost gas tax exemption. But they all ultimately fell flat and the upper chamber voted to suspend the rules to pass SB 1, the fiscal matters bill, and SB 2, the general appropriations bill, on second and third reading in one day.
Talking to reporters afterward, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that the House Appropriations Committee would consider the bills tomorrow.
On the floor, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, insisted that a vote for SB 2 was not a vote to reduce public education funding.
"If you vote for this bill, you are adding $3.8 billion in revenue," he said. "We are not cutting funding for the schools."
His point is that money from public education has actually increased since the last biennium, but here's the catch: It's still $4 billion less than what the state owes schools under statute, in part to cover the growth in the public school population.
Ogden also amended his general appropriations to include $17 million for civil legal aid for the poor and $7 million in indigent criminal defense, a victory for Republican Supreme Court Justices Wallace Jefferson and Nathan Hecht, who have pushed hard to include legal defense services in the budget. Those funds, Ogden said, came out of general revenue.
Why did lawmakers not add them before? "We didn't think we had the money," he said.