House Approves $503 Million Boost to Current Budget
by Ryan McCrimmon
April 1, 2015
*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.
After an 18-hour marathon Tuesday night to sign off on a $210 billion two-year state budget, lawmakers were back in the Texas House on Wednesday afternoon for a bit of unfinished business: plugging holes in the current budget.
First, the House gave final approval to its 2016-17 budget — which won’t be a done deal until that chamber finds common ground with the Senate. Then, House lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of a measure to fill unexpected gaps in the 2014-15 budget with excess revenue — a standard procedure every two years.
The supplemental budget, House Bill 2 by House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, would address more than $1 billion in state needs by shifting funds from one agency to another and providing an additional $503 million for fiscal year 2015, which ends in August. The bill appropriates $280 million from general revenue funds — the part of the budget lawmakers have the most control over — and the rest from federal funds.
The supplemental budget would provide the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) with $456.7 million for Medicaid services, including $252.8 million moved from the Department of Aging and Disability Services, the Department of State Health Services and other HHSC purposes. The original version of the bill would have taken that money from mental health services and health services for women and children — a proposal criticized by several members of the House Appropriations Committee — but that provision was changed in committee.
The bill also provides an extra $768 million for the foundering health care system for retired teachers and $20.6 million for the Texas Facilities Commission to address major maintenance needs, including $11 million for the Texas School for the Deaf, where buildings suffer from rodent infestations and broken fire alarms.
State budget officials told the Appropriations Committee last month that the leftover funds were due to higher federal funding than expected and programs that couldn’t spend all of their money on time. This year’s proposed $503 million supplemental budget is much smaller than the 2013 supplement that passed the House at $875 million and grew to $5.4 billion in the Senate, including $2 billion for the state water plan.
After slogging through more than 350 proposed amendments to the 2016-17 budget late Tuesday night, House members spent little time Wednesday debating amendments to the 2015 supplemental budget, eventually adding four.
After members voted 148-0 to pass HB 2, Otto, a certified public accountant, said he enjoyed his first time as the House’s head budget writer “like a hog in a mud puddle.”
He has more work ahead; the House and Senate will have to put their heads together to find version of both bills that are amenable to their members — and Gov. Greg Abbott.