On Thursday the Texas House will take up the only bill lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass: the state budget.
The debate could easily last well into the night. There have been 267 amendments filed.
So we wanted to give you a little cheat sheet of what to look for Thursday. And the best way to do that is to talk to a budget expert, like Kate Alexander from the Austin-American Statesman.
"We came into this session with $8.8 billion left over from the current budget that was able to close some of the holes and budget gimmicks that were used to balance the budget in 2011," Alexander said. "And now we're looking at some significant investments going forward in the next two-year budget to help restore some of the funding cuts that were made in 2011."
She said having more money doesn't necessarily mean a quiet budget debate. Although, so far this session, the mood on the House floor has not been as rancorous as it was last time.
In 2011, Republicans used several budget amendments to chip away at all state funding to Planned Parenthood. This time, a group of freshman Republicans wants to make policy statements with amendments that cut funds to programs they don't believe the state should support.
"We've already seen a group of freshmen who have put forth a series of amendments to take away from programs all over the budget, and they want to direct that money into retiree health care for teachers," Alexander said. "So that may be the beneficiary of that money, which totals about $215 million, but the real point is trying to take aim at policies that they don't think the state should be spending money on."
The move to defund Planned Parenthood was a big point of contention in the last session. And it could be again during the House budget debate. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has been pushing to restore some of those family planning cuts this session.
“There are some pre-filed amendments that do look at this issue from both sides," Howard said. "My understanding right now is that there is a lot of talk offline to try to pull some of those amendments so that we won’t have the same kind of floor battle that we had last time."
Howard will be looking to fend off any attempts to cut back increases to family planning funds currently in the budget.
Sticking with health care, the budget debate could also mark the first time the House has had a public debate over whether Texas should join the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, has been working on figuring out how Texas could be a part of that expansion.
“I look forward to the conversation, and I think our constituents who elected us up here think that we should be having a conversation and a debate about it," Zerwas said. "So I think that it’s appropriate for us to have that as part of our dialogue at least surrounding one of the amendments."
The more substantive debate could come in a couple of weeks, when Zerwas’ bill to create a funding mechanism for Medicaid expansion comes to the House floor.
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