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Senate OKs Bill That Would Tighten Spending Cap

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would tighten the state's constitutional spending cap and make it tougher for future legislatures to break it. Senate Bill 9, by Sen. Kelly Hancock, passed with a vote of 19-12.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation legislative orientation session on Jan. 7, 2015.

*Correction appended

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would tighten the state's constitutional spending cap and make it tougher for future legislatures to break it. 

Following a party-line debate on the floor, Senate Bill 9, proposed by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, passed in a 19-12 vote. Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler was the only Republican to vote against the measure. 

"This historic bill has been a priority for more than a decade, and I am proud that the Texas Senate has finally accomplished this goal," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. He said the measure would ensure that "our budget addresses our needs before our wants."

Under current law, the Legislative Budget Board sets the spending cap before each session, based on projections of how state personal income will grow over the next two years. SB 9, which now goes to the House, aims to tighten state spending by basing the spending cap calculation on the combined growth in population and inflation over the previous two bienniums.

The spending cap is more complicated and less comprehensive than its simple name suggests. Several large pots of revenue, including federal funds, are not subject to the cap.

Under SB 9, spending that is subject to the cap would be broadened to include some non-tax revenue, like fees for specialty license plates. Also under the new bill, spending subject to the cap would grow by more than $20 billion, according to Patrick's office. 

An amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and adopted as part of the bill, raised the threshold for busting the cap from a simple majority vote to three-fifths of each chamber. 

Not everyone was celebrating the historic vote. 

"We have vital, unmet needs in our state: overcrowded schools, underpaid teachers, crumbling infrastructure and the highest uninsured rate in the nation," Sen. Rodney Ellis said in a statement, reacting to the legislation passing. "Instead of meeting those needs, SB 9 will further restrict future legislatures from investing in the next generation of Texans."

The House passed out a budget last week that left $2 billion in spending under the cap. Next week, the Senate is scheduled to debate a version of the budget that leaves $1.3 billion in spending under the cap. 

Aman Batheja contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the state's portion of the gas tax would be included in the Senate's proposal to tighten the spending cap.

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Economy State government 84th Legislative Session Budget Dan Patrick Kelly Hancock Rodney Ellis Texas Legislature Texas Senate