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House Democrats: Budget Deal Still Not in Place

UPDATED: Half a day after Senate budget leaders said the contours of a budget deal were in place, confusion and uncertainty reigned in the Capitol as key negotiators argued over competing proposals.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Jim Pitts, l, R-Waxahachie, and Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, at the early morning meeting on May 17, 2013.

Update, 1:25 p.m.:

Half a day after Senate budget leaders said the contours of a budget deal were in place, confusion and uncertainty reigned in the Capitol as key negotiators argued over competing proposals.

House Democrats spent much of Friday morning criticizing a proposal put forth by Republican House leaders earlier in the week that purportedly offers about $3.9 billion in public education funding, the amount Democrats are pushing for. House Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, called the proposal “a sham” that deceptively tries to pass off extra spending for programs such as education for prison inmates as in line with Democrats’ demands. 

Meanwhile, House Democrats have declined to discuss the budget plan offered by the Senate late Thursday night because they say they still haven’t seen it. The plan, according to those familiar with the proposal, would add nearly $4.1 billion in extra spending for schools.

Thursday evening, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst portrayed the Senate’s budget proposal as essentially a done deal.

“The major elements have been agreed to and all that’s waiting to be done is for the conferees to meet and adopt the budget,” Dewhurst said at the time.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, one of the House Democrats’ lead budget negotiators, said Senate leaders presented him with a budget plan Thursday night but that he never agreed to it.

“That particular offer has not been made to the whole caucus or Ms. Davis, who is the caucus chair,” Eiland said midday Friday.

The budget conference committee — the 10 lawmakers officially tasked with coming to a budget deal — have announced a meeting for 2 p.m., after canceling one planned for yesterday. Ahead of the meeting, House Democrats said they planned to make their demands known to budget conferees.

Eiland said House Democrats want $296 million more for the Foundation School Program above the $3.2 billion the House offered. However, the Senate plan apparently includes $3.4 billion for the Foundation School Program, so the debate may be down to less than $100 million.

Of the $3.9 billion that House Democrats have been pushing for, Eiland said Democrats are comfortable with only around $400 million of that not going directly into the Foundation School Program. The reason, he explained, is fear of what Gov. Rick Perry will do when the budget reaches his desk.

“This is very important to us that it be in the Foundation School Program because there’s no line-item veto there,” Eiland said.

Original story:

The lead budget negotiator for Democrats in the Texas House said Friday morning that a budget deal is not in place, despite a new offer from Senate leaders announced late Thursday evening.

“I am not aware of an offer by the Senate,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. He suggested that Democrats have yet to see an offer that provides the minimum $3.9 billion in new school funding they are demanding.

“What’s so complicated about this?” Turner said. “It’s not algebra II. This is not even algebra I.”

Turner also suggested some of the offers being made by Republican leaders are attempting to make it appear that more money is being added to education than really is.

“Let’s not play games,” Turner said. “Let’s have a grown-up conversation. Let’s put all our hands above the table and whatever your position is, that is your position. Let us not engage in smoke and mirrors.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told The Associated Press late Thursday that the major points of a new two-year budget that included just over $4 billion in additional funding for education had been resolved. 

Turner spoke Friday after the House Appropriations Committee met and voted out a revised version of Senate Joint Resolution 1 that would ask voters to approve a constitutionally dedicated water infrastructure fund. Lawmakers would still have to appropriate the money into the fund, expected to be $2 billion, as part of a final budget deal. Turner and five other Democrats on the committee voted “present not voting” on the resolution. Turner explained the resolution is one part of the budget deal and that Democrats can’t support it until they see how it fits into the full package.

A reporter asked Turner what he thought of Gov. Rick Perry’s comment Thursday that some people were trying to “blow up the session” and force him to call a special session.

To the tune of a famous Michael Jackson song, Turner sang, “I’m looking for the man in the mirror.”

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