April 5 , 2019

Inside this edition of Capitol Roundup:

Texas House passes 2020-21 budget bill with no opposition

Senate spending plan advances from committee

House passes school finance reform bill with approval of employee pay raise amendment

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Quote of the Week

"We're having great conversations with our friends in the Senate."

-House Speaker Dennis Bonnen
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen R-Angleton) was quoted after the House passed a major school finance reform bill on Wednesday. The bill now heads to the Senate before its final details will likely be worked out in a joint House-Senate conference committee.
Texas House passes its 2020-21 budget bill as the Senate advances its plan out of committee

The Texas House unanimously passed its blueprint for the state's next two-year budget last week, paving the way for negotiations with the Senate, which sent its own spending bill to the Senate floor this week. 

Two of the biggest focal points of the budget this year - and major priorities for Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen - have been finding mechanisms to provide more money for schools while also giving taxpayers some relief on their property tax bills.

In the House, members debated for around 11 hours before passing the bill with no opposition and sending the measure to the Senate just after midnight on March 28. "I'm proud of where we are in the bill that we are sending to the Senate," said chief House budget writer John Zerwas (R-Richmond) at the end of the debate. "Each and every one of you should be incredibly proud of the work that you've put in here."

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond)
Compared to recent sessions, there was relatively little debate on the bill that turned contentious. However, prior to the House taking up the measure, more than 300 amendments had been filed to advance members' various spending proposals. But just 123 of the floor amendments were adopted by the body, and most of the amendments were moved to the Article XI "wish list" portion of the budget where final passage is typically unlikely.  

The competing House and Senate budget proposals mirror each other in terms of spending levels for education funding. But while the House plan would leave it up to school districts to decide how to spend the additional funds, the Senate plan would require about two-thirds of the additional $6.3 billion in funding to be spent on pay raises for school teachers.

Regarding property taxes, the two chambers have agreed to spend an additional $2.7 billion on tax relief, though the mechanism for slowing the rate of property tax growth throughout the state is still being debated. 

The proposal passed unanimously out of the Senate Finance Committee this week would allocate $248 billion in total spending, which is about $5 billion more than the amount in the Senate's original plan outlined in January. 

Once senators pass their budget bill on the floor, selected members from the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to reconcile varying spending figures and come to a final agreement. 

House Bill 1 passage by the numbers...
  • $251 billion in total funding
  • $116.5 billion in state general revenue
  • $6.3 billion increase in state education funding
  • $2.7 billion allotted to reduce property tax bills
  • $2 billion in "rainy day fund" spending 
  • 10+ hours of debate on the House floor
  • 137 floor amendments proposed 
  • 123 floor amendments adopted
  • 0 votes against the bill
House lawmakers also approved a supplemental spending plan, which is the budget the Legislature passes each session to cover any remaining expenses that were not provided for in the current budget. The House plan largely focused on funding for relief from Hurricane Harvey and for health and human services programs.

The bill - Senate Bill 500 - began in the Senate and now returns there for final approval. While the House plan proposed $9 billion in supplemental spending, the Senate originally provided for $6 billion.
House passes school finance bill, moves closer to Senate on pay raises

The Texas House overwhelmingly advanced a school finance reform package Wednesday that was amended to include funds for teacher pay raises. 

However, the House plan - House Bill 3 - will need to be reconciled with a Senate school finance bill passed last month before a final bill can be sent to the governor. The major point of contention between the two versions centers around how much funding to allot for school employee pay raises. 

The House plan provides across-the-board, on-average $1,850 pay raises for all full-time school employees who are not administrators. Meanwhile, the Senate version proposes $5,000 across-the-board pay raises for teachers and librarians only.  The House bill also increases per-student base level funding by $890 and provides funding for pre-K for lower income students in most districts. 

The House amendment that added the pay raises to the bill would require every school district to spend at least 25 percent of its basic allotment increase on pay raises with discretion to spend beyond that amount if desired. The amendment would not add to the total cost of the bill but the allotment increase would apply anytime the Legislature raises the base funding per student in the future. 
House Public Education Committee Chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston)

"We are finally reforming public education in Texas, and not by court order, so that's a pretty important thing," said Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who authored the bill and chairs the House Public Education Committee.

House and Senate leaders have disagreed over the course of this session on the amount of discretion to give districts in deciding how to spend additional education funding, and a final bill will likely continue to center on pay raises and discretionary spending. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised the members of the House for taking "a first step toward an across-the-board pay raise," according to a statement from his office. 

Gov. Greg Abbott, who had listed reforming Texas' school finance system as one of his five emergency items for this session, also heaped praise on the efforts under the capitol dome in Austin.

"The Legislature is making changes that will have a lasting impact on our education system, and more importantly, our students," Abbott said in a statement.

The bill passed 148-1 after members adopted 49 floor amendments. The bill now moves to the Senate where it will be further debated until the two bodies can reach a final compromise. 
 
April 2019
FRI 26th - TBB Board meeting
 
May 2019
MON 27th - Last Day of 86th Legislature
 
June 2019
WED 5th - SAT 8th - Convention @ Jackson Hole, WY
 
August 2019
THU 22nd - OCA awards @ Georgetown, TX
FRI 23rd - Board meeting
 
November 2019
FRI 15th - Board meeting