87th LegislatureState HouseTaxes & SpendingTexas House Speeds Through State Budget Night With Little Fanfare

After passing the House on Thursday, the state's budget will likely now move to a conference committee to hammer out differences between the two chambers' versions.
and April 23, 2021
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“I’ve been here for 20 years and this is as smooth as any budget that I’ve ever gone through with probably the exception of the first one,” Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) told the Texas House of Representatives just before passage of its biennial budget.

The House unanimously passed the committee substitute for Senate Bill (SB) 1 that has a total fiscal tag of $246 billion. That’s roughly a $5 billion difference from the Senate’s version, and most of that difference involves an appropriation of less federal funding than the upper chamber enshrined.

The process on Thursday involved the House members taking their shots at amending the state’s budget. Over 240 amendments were filed in advance of the floor debate and the day began with anticipation.

But once the House got moving, what was expected to be a marathon, bare-knuckle brawl turned out to be a rather swift and straightforward process. Many amendments were put in Article XI, the budget “wish list,” if not withdrawn entirely — abbreviating the floor proceeding substantially.

When the final bell tolled at 10:20 p.m., few dust-ups had occurred on a day typically known for policy skirmishes. But the House did pass some notable amendments, leaving their mark on the 2022-2023 budget process.

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Medicaid Expansion Fizzles

House Democrats entered Thursday with momentum behind their continuous effort to expand the Medicaid program in Texas. Last week, the Biden administration rescinded federal approval of a waiver around which the state has structured its health care system.

Earlier this week, Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) announced her Medicaid expansion bill had gained nine Republican joint authors — enough to have a slim majority of support in the House.

Just before the House convened, Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) unveiled his strategy for the amendment process: to direct the state to seek another waiver allowing Texas to design its own Medicaid-like program.

That amendment became Coleman’s swing for the fence but it whiffed on the floor, failing by a substantial margin. It’s back to square one for Texas Democrats.

Special Session for Federal Funding On the Horizon

Toward the end of the night, Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Mission) introduced an amendment to require a special session once the expected federal COVID-19 funding arrives. The state is expected to receive $17 billion for its own use with $18 billion earmarked for schools and $10 billion for local governments.

Morrison’s amendment is designed to give the legislature a say over how the money is disbursed rather than the executive branch, or governor, getting most or all of the say. The amendment was challenged by a point of order, but after a long deliberation, it was withdrawn and the proposal passed unanimously in a record vote.

The amendment, like any other the House adopted Thursday, could be stripped out in the looming conference committee deliberations between the two chambers. But for now, Morrison has secured a voice for the legislature on that issue, whenever it comes knocking.

Funding Increased for Alternatives to Abortion Program

Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), joined by every GOP House member and a few Democrats, succeeded in increasing the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program funding by $20 million. The funds were redirected from an IT & Program Support category.

“These extra funds will help pregnant women get the services and support they might need to carry the pregnancy to term. And then will help the new mother and child for years afterwards,” Krause posted to social media after its adoption. 

“This was a good day for the pro-life movement here in Texas!”

An earlier amendment by Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) to redirect $20 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to the criminal justice human trafficking function of the Office of the Governor.

Funding Curtailed for Attorney General’s Outside Counsel 

With an amendment by Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas), state funding for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is limited to $500 per hour. The Senate had approved roughly $43 million to fund the OAG’s hiring of outside counsel to litigate the state’s antitrust lawsuit against Google.

Back in February, Attorney General Ken Paxton was challenged to justify the funding request. He stated that outside counsel was necessary because it is an obscure lane of law and there wasn’t enough working knowledge within the department to litigate it in-house. “We are taking on a behemoth that I believe if we do not succeed and stop, that we’ll never be able to control it and stop it,” he added.

But the contract comes out to about $3,800 per hour with the two law firms hired by Paxton. If González’s amendment is preserved in conference committee, that allotment would shrink drastically.

Property Tax Relief Fund Buttressed

An extra $100 million will trickle into the Property Tax Relief Fund due to Rep. Bryan Slaton’s (R-Royse City) budget amendment. It’ll draw from the Texas Enterprise Fund money that was directed at the Office of the Governor’s Trusteed program.

Additionally, an amendment successfully adopted by the body directed $100 million to the School District Property Tax Relief Fund.

‘Downright Evil’

In a heavy moment during the debate, Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) raised a point of order against an amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Cason (R-Bedford) that would have banned the use of funds from the state’s treasury to pay for “critical theory” instruction in public schools.

Collier called the amendment “downright evil” from the back microphone when she raised her objection.

The chamber stood at ease as the leadership considered Collier’s point of order, which was ultimately sustained by Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso).

Following the ruling, Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) asked a series of questions of Moody that were seemingly designed to criticize Collier’s choice of words to describe Cason’s amendment. 

Moody admonished members to keep the debate respectful.

‘The Point of Order Is Well Taken’

Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) made a number of attempts to advance conservative priorities such as a ban on the distribution of coronavirus-related economic relief dollars to illegal aliens.

The proposal died when Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) sustained a point of order against it on account that it created “general law” rather than addressing an appropriations issue, a type of parliamentary objection that many members raised throughout the day.

Under the same rule, Phelan killed another one of Slaton’s amendments that would have prohibited Foundation School Program funds from being used to “affirm a child’s perception of the child’s biological sex if that perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological[.]”

Slaton withdrew an amendment he had introduced that would prohibit the governor from using state funds to enforce orders that close certain businesses during a state of disaster. 

He also withdrew an amendment that would have redirected $20 million in funding from the Texas Commission on the Arts to continue construction on the border wall system.

When a lawmaker raises a point of order against an amendment, the author of the amendment will sometimes choose to withdraw it for the sake of time, particularly if it seems likely that the amendment would be killed.

Though his other priorities were withdrawn or shot down by the speaker, Slaton successfully advanced an amendment to reassign $100 million for the purpose of property tax relief.

School Vouchers, Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying, Teacher Retirement System

Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Dallas) seemed to sneak through unnoticed an amendment requiring the Texas Comptroller to commission a study on pay equity between the sexes in state agencies. It was adopted without objection and had been voted down last session.

An amendment forbidding state funding being used to finance a school voucher program passed with 115 members in support.

In what could be a foreshadowing vote for a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying, 22 Republicans voted to strike a section of a budget rider that prohibited Texas Education Agency funding from being used to hire lobbyists. A couple of different versions are still making their way through the chambers, but that vote indicates a dearth of necessary support to pass it.

The chamber also passed by unanimous consent an amendment by Tinderholt that reduced $45 million in the fiscal biennium from Gov. Greg Abbott’s trusteed programs and instead directed it to the Texas teacher retirement program.

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Brad Johnson

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.