With just weeks remaining in the regular session of the 84th Legislature, House and Senate conferees are working out the two chambers’ different versions of House Bill 1, the 2016-17 General Appropriations Act. Wherever different levels of funding are proposed, the conferees may choose to go with the lower amount, the higher amount, or compromise somewhere in between. Conferees must also work out differences in budget “riders” that attach strings to how certain services can be funded, as well as budget proposals to transfer responsibilities for administering programs from one state agency to another.
Our new Legislative Budget Snapshot (PDF) examines the House and Senate budgets’ differences and similarities in Health and Wellness and Economic Opportunity, the key areas where additional investments could help make Texas the best state for hard-working people and their families. Major state services within these areas range from Medicaid, CHIP, family planning, and mental health, to Pre-K, state aid to local school districts, need-based college financial aid, and adult education. These areas add up to a little more than half of the proposed 2016-17 budget: 55 percent, or $116 billion All Funds, of both the House and Senate recommendations.
The single largest area in which state dollars would be spent – not counting federal matching dollars – is the Foundation School Program, which supports local school districts and charter schools. At first glance the Senate proposal for schools might appear to be making a larger commitment to educating Texas’ 5.2 million students. But after adjusting for the Senate’s plan to reduce local school property taxes and cut the state’s franchise tax, both of which support the Foundation School Program, it is in fact the House proposal that does more to restore per-student spending to pre-recession levels.
The House is proposing even larger tax cuts, though not through House Bill 1. Any tax cuts enacted by the 2015 Legislature reduce not just our ability to invest today in our public schools, universities, and health care systems; tax cuts make it that much harder for future legislators to address the needs of our rapidly growing state. Texas already ranks 47th in per-resident state budget spending, yet both the House and Senate budgets would fail even to keep pace with population and inflation in 2016 and 2017. This means that public schools, higher education, Medicaid, and other human services – all of which saw major state budget cuts in 2003 and 2011 and have not yet recovered to their pre-recession levels – will continue to be strained by increases in students, clients, and costs. Both the House and Senate budget proposals fall short: they put tax cuts, in what is already a low-tax state, ahead of the investments needed to ensure our future prosperity.
Additional in-depth analyses of House Bill 1 budget implications for state services, and of the House and Senate’s competing tax-cut proposals, will be coming soon.