Scores of amendments are heard, hotly debated, and voted on in one legislative day — patience is necessary, and caffeine recommended. The biennial state budget process begins as soon as the last one ended, and legislators have been working on this iteration since the day after the 86th Legislative Session concluded.
This session, the pandemic’s pressure on state coffers has left a pensive aura around the capitol building. Back in January, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated a $950 million budget shortfall for the 2020-2021 budget. While that has largely been covered by five percent budget cuts for certain agencies, but it does not leave much wiggle room for this session’s budget.
The $15 billion spending increase approved last session, mostly for a school finance injection and property tax buydown, is not in the cards this time around even for those who’d support it.
The Senate’s blueprint sets a $251 billion target line for the 2022-2023 biennium, including a $117.9 billion allotment for the general revenue fund — the section of the budget over which legislators have most discretion.
It includes $3.1 billion for schools for enrollment growth and $1 billion for continued property tax compression.
The written budget is below the population growth plus inflation line used by some to measure fiscal responsibility. But it doesn’t include the nearly $45 billion in projected federal aid expected to flow to the state, local governments, and school districts. The estimated state portion is $17 billion and how it will be spent must be configured down the road.
The total fiscal tag for the House remains to be seen but it will become clearer after Thursday’s free-for-all. Once the House’s version passes, the two chambers will enter a conference committee to hash out the differences and settle on a final product.
Every article of the budget is fair game for amending on the House floor and nearly 250 amendments have been pre-filed ahead of Thursday.
Specific themes to watch include a massive fight over Medicaid expansion, especially after the Biden administration revoked Texas’ 1115 waiver extension; funding for the Office of the Attorney General, including for the agency’s hiring of outside counsel to litigate the Google antitrust case; and the Alternatives to Abortion program that is appropriated $80 million in the Senate version.
The feature of the night will almost surely be the Medicaid debate, especially in light of nine GOP members singing on to expansion legislation, giving House Democrats a slim 76-vote majority.
But once the dust settles, Texas will have a better idea of the fiscal path charted ahead for the next biennium.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.