April 18, 2023- The Texas Senate on Monday gave the final approval to a $308 billion spending plan for the next two years, sending budget leaders into high-stakes negotiations with their counter parts in the House over property taxes and other divisive issues.
Senators voted 31-0 to spend $141.2 billion in general revenue on major investments in property tax cuts, juvenile justice, mental health, higher education, state parks, historical sites and pay raises for teachers and state employees.
State Rep. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversaw the budget-writing process for the chamber, said “smart fiscal policy” over the last several sessions allowed budget writers to make historic investments thanks to an unprecedented surplus in state coffers.
During floor debate over their budget proposal, senators briefly debated a rider in the budget bill that bans funding from universities that use diversity, equity and inclusion practices in their hiring processes.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, another member of the finance committee spent weeks vetting the proposal, attempting to cut out the anti-DEI language in the 965-page budget bill but failed on a 19-12 vote along partisan lines.
Monday’s action comes just over a week after the Texas House approved a slightly more decreased budget with $136.9 billion in general revenue spending, at a time when lawmakers have a historic $32.7 billion surplus this session.
Neither chamber’s proposal spends the entirety of the surplus, nor do they exceed spending limits, budget leaders said.
The two versions agree on several issues, including funding more mental health services, supporting border enforcement programs, addressing prison conditions and investing billions of new money in public schools and pay raises.
However there is roughly a $5 billion difference in state tax dollars being spent between the two plans, along with several areas of conflict expected to drive the negotiations when members of both chambers meet in conference committee to shape out a compromise.
The two chambers have also approved emergency spending bills to plug budget shortfalls and bump up funding during the current biennium, adding billions of dollars more to mental health, state employee pay raises and other projects. Those bills will also be negotiated in conference, in particular a Senate commitment to direct $3.9 billion to pay off some of the costs pushed onto customers because of high prices for gas or electricity.
Senators on Monday approved $5 billion in additional money for schools that would pay for teacher pay raises and other educational programs, including costs associated with offering parents private school subsidies. $3.7 billion was also approved for cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers, $650 million to improve security at schools and $650 million to revamp community college funding.
Both budget proposals have references to a so-called education savings account pushed by Abbott and Patrick that would reserve money normally spent on public schools for some parents who want to move their children out of the struggling public school system.
The Senate has already voted 18-13 to create such a program, with proponents arguing that it would give children in low-performing public school districts a chance to attend expensive, higher-performing schools with tuition that might currently be out of their reach.