After more than 15 hours of contentious debate, the Texas House passed a budget around 2 a.m. Friday, moving its spending blueprint closer to the Senate's plan but stopping short of an agreement on tapping into the state's savings account.
House budget writers faced more than 200 amendments to their 2018-19 spending document, but the bill managed to pass by a margin of 131-16.
While the House cut about $4 billion in general state revenue spending from its original plan laid out this session, its members voted to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to cover a $2.5 billion hole left by a drop in revenue this year.
Meanwhile, the Senate - which unanimously passed its budget plan last week - increased spending from its original plan by $2.7 billion and covered the $2.5 billion gap by
shifting back the date of a new transfer of general revenue into the state highway fund. The competing House and Senate plans will likely have to be worked out in conference committee before the May 29 deadline.
House budget leaders, including
House Speaker Joe Straus, have called the Senate's maneuver an "accounting trick." Lead House budget writer
Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) thanked House lawmakers for tapping into state savings,
"instead of electing to use an unconstitutional transfer from the transportation funding."
There has been talk around the Capitol of possibly using the Rainy Day Fund since the two chambers began their budget talks with spending plans that were $5 billion apart. While it has been used in the past to avoid tax hikes, Texas state lawmakers have consistently said that the fund should not be used for ongoing expenses, such as education or transportation.
In an especially lean budget year, the two chambers of the Legislature disagree not only on funding sources, but also on which areas of the budget to cut. Perhaps the biggest disagreement lies in opposing efforts to find new ways to fund education.
While the Senate budget would strip $1.8 billion in state education funding and shift more costs to local governments during a time of rising property values, the House plan would add $1.6 billion in state funds in order to relieve pressure from property taxes. The House budget also shifts
the budget's final education aid payment onto the next state budget.
Both the House and Senate budgets spend more than the state is currently taking in.
Comptroller Glenn Hegar
said in January that Texas would bring in less revenue over the 2018-19 cycle than in the current 2016-17 cycle. The drop is due to a crash in oil prices, but also because 2015 tax cuts removed $4 billion from the budget, the same year lawmakers and voters approved nearly $5 billion in new highway funding.