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First Impressions

The Texas House is about to hold its first debate, and on a spending bill, to boot. It will pass, because it must. But watch how they work.

House members huddle at dais on February 14th, 2013

The early spending bills offer up a peek into the ways of the current Legislature, with its big freshman class, its partisan balance and a weird set of issues that don’t generate the same amount of heat as what was on the table two years ago.

If this was food instead of politics, it would be a vegetarian kitchen to 2011’s red meat specialties.

The supplemental appropriations bills start next week with the Medicaid IOU bill that has to pass in a hurry to keep that program from missing payments to health care providers. Lawmakers balanced the budget two years ago by leaving several months out of the Medicaid budget; the bill is due.

Because it’s due and the measure must pass, this first supplemental is a potential vehicle for other spending requests, namely some sort of catch-up on the $5.4 billion carved out of public education two years ago. That’s not going to happen, but look at the other moving parts.

A working group of Democrats and Republicans that includes the speaker’s staff is putting together nearly $1 billion in restorations for those education cuts, and the Democrats are backing down from demands on the first bill.

They can always try later on two supplementals that will follow — one for genuinely unexpected spending on fires and prison healthcare and the other for deferred payments that pulled the budget into balance.

That first supplemental has another sharp edge. It’s an emergency measure and since the governor hasn’t declared it one, it needs 120 votes to get out of the House. That number will require a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats. [Update: Because it's an appropriations bill, we're told, it requires only a simple majority. And because it's a general appropriations bill, it's exposed to amendments for any kind of spending ideas. The House adopted a rule in advance of the debate that caps the total amount that can be spent, so that any additions must be matched by subtractions of at least the same amounts.]

If they can pull all that off, and put some of the education money back in the budget, and keep members from trying to load up the first piece of legislation on the floor, it’ll tell you something about this particular band of 150.

If it comes to pieces, that’ll be instructive, too.

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State government Budget Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature