Texas House Approves $218 Billion Budget after Marathon 15-Hour Debate
After more than 15 hours of debate, The Texas House has finally approved a $218 billion two-year state budget. But even after the drawn-out discussion, there's still some unfinished business. Our Max Gorden breaks down the debate.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Even before debate began, Texas lawmakers knew the state budget would remain unfinished.
"I do want to stress that this is just the start of the debate on the budget. It is not the end," said Rep. John Zerwas, R- Richmond.
But the Texas House did draw its distinction from the Senate during its marathon budget debate -- which lasted until the wee hours of Friday morning. House members took a public stance against vouchers, passing a provision that would prohibit state money from going to so-called school choice programs in Texas.
"We're about 500 million higher than they are," said Zerwas.
The lower chamber's vote also differed from the Senate by its willingness to spend more, and to tap $2.5 billion from the state's rainy day fund to help in tight budget times.
"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.
A dramatic debate highlight occurred when Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R- Bedford, had a procedural tiff sparked after the lawmaker objected to the lack of a roll call vote for an amendment diverting money from the Texas Enterprise Fund.
"What happened today is one of the most offensive things and disgusting things that I have seen in this body," said Stickland. "We either have rules in this House, and we have decorum, and we have rights as elected representatives to represent our constituents, or we don't."
But as darkness fell and lawmakers began to burn the midnight oil, fewer than half of the 401 amendments had received their time on the floor.
So, in an abrupt ending, the remaining amendments were put into a budget wish list to be negotiated behind closed doors during end of session talks with the Senate and controversial bathroom restriction amendments were pulled in exchange for defunding Planned Parenthood.
"Like Senator Nelson likes to say, and I like to also say, everything's on the table when we come together," said Zerwas.
But with the Senate bound to see some of the provisions as unsavory, this unfinished budget still has a ways to go.
Also of note, a controversial abortion-related amendment passed the House during the budget debate.
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.
The budget now heads back to the Senate, which is all but certain to reject it, setting up a panel that will hash out the differences before the end of session.