State budget deal calls for $15 billion in cuts
A compromise budget that cuts state spending by $15.1 billion over the next two years is heading to lawmakers for a final vote before Monday's legislative adjournment.
But on another critical front, an impasse remained over school finance as House and Senate leaders near the make-or-break point for reaching a deal before time runs out.
Negotiators approved the $172.3 billion biennial budget Thursday, ending nearly four months of contentious deliberations over the dominant issue of the session. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the two-year spending plan Saturday.
The budget includes $4 billion in education cuts. Lawmakers on Thursday were still struggling to adopt a separate school finance plan essential to distributing the reduced funding to the more than 1,000 Texas school districts.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said that legislators will face the likelihood of a special session if they fail to produce a school finance plan.
Key lawmakers are hoping to forge a hybrid school finance plan from competing proposals designed by the leaders of the House and Senate education committees.
Today was widely considered the final day for producing an agreement, but lawmakers involved in the discussions said they were getting close to a deal. House members submitted a plan for senators to review overnight.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the proposed budget is based on "smoke-and-mirrors" accounting by Republican leaders and asked Comptroller Susan Combs to return it to the House if she determines that it isn't balanced, as required by the state constitution.
Legislative leaders signed off on the broad framework of the budget in an agreement last week, and House-Senate conferees continued deliberations to craft the final plan. The Republican-dominated conference committee voted 9-1 to advance the budget to the full House and Senate, with Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, casting the lone dissent.
Ogden and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said that the budget averts some of the worst-case scenarios envisioned earlier and softens expected spending reductions on education and healthcare.
"Under the circumstances, this is a great budget," Ogden said. "It's not without pain. Budgets are going to be tight, but Texas is going to be fine for the next two years under this budget."
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