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House braces for marathon debate on the Texas budget

09 April 2017

Lawmakers there voted to strip $43 million from the governor's Texas Enterprise Fund, the "deal-closing" fund the state uses to lure businesses from elsewhere, and divide it into two equal pots: one for Child Protective Services and foster care funding, the other for a program that pays for disabled children's physical, occupational and speech therapy services.

The budget passed 50-48 and is now awaiting negotiation between House and Senate leaders.

Numerous amendments will come forward Thursday, with Democrats proposing plans to win over moderate Republicans and the most fiscally conservative members looking for ways to slash spending.

Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, filed an amendment that would cut $145.6 million from border security to fund a program that offers free tuition to veterans and their children at public universities.

The amendment filed by Plano Republican Rep. Matt Shaheen would take $16 million from the Texas Department of Agriculture to fund the same program.

For the first time in modern memory the House has failed to pass a state budget, effectively removing the 400 legislators from the process for now and erasing the work of their Finance Committee over the past several months. " ... It isn't going to work unless these other measures prevail".

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About $20 million will be taken out from the state's environmental agency to fund an "Alternative to Abortion" program for low-income pregnant women. More than $2 billion in proposed cost cuts to Medicaid is also on the table, and many state agencies are under a hiring freeze.

"A large faction of this group only focuses on the fact that government really should be much smaller than it is, regardless of the consequences that that has on their fellow man", Jasper said.

"That's a pretty big difference, but it's one that I think we'll easily be able to figure out in conference", said Zerwas. "It's time to funnel the money to the principle functions that our government should be doing".

A proposal by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, to cut funding for feral hog abatement drew a sharp response from a fellow Republican, Rep. That's half of the $3 million he initially requested for the program, which has been in place since 2012. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, thanked lawmakers for exhibiting "true leadership" with their willingness to tap the fund, "instead of electing to use an unconstitutional transfer from the transportation funding". The funding could still be removed since the final House budget will have to be reconciled with the Senate's budget. But tempers flared in the immediate aftermath.

Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, proposed an amendment that would provide tampons to inmates.

Lawmakers in the midst of what promises to be an hours-long slog debating the state's spending plan for the next biennium voted 103-44 in favor of an amendment expressly stating state money "may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic education".

House braces for marathon debate on the Texas budget