We’re past the half-way mark and there is still much to do to address the critical needs facing our state…and not very much time to do it. On Wednesday, the House will take its first big step to address these needs by debating the two-year, $250 billion state budget (that’s all funds, including federal dollars) – the one bill we are required by the state’s Constitution to pass.

I have said it many times before and it still holds true today: our state budget is a moral document that reflects our priorities as a state, what we care about, and more importantly, who we care about.

Two years ago, the last time we went through this process, I didn’t think the budget did its job in meeting the needs of our state. We didn’t invest enough in our public schools, forcing local taxpayers to foot the majority of the cost. Higher education spending was flat, ignoring the needs of our growing institutions like UT Arlington. Medicaid spending failed to keep up with the state’s caseload, creating a wide and deep hole to fill. And a significant amount of transportation funding was diverted to close other gaps and balance the budget. That’s why I voted against it.

As it’s currently written, this year’s budget does a much better job. Some of the highlights include:

  • $9 billion more for public schools*
  • $50 million for special education grants
  • $173 million to help address behavioral health capacity — including more money for psychiatric care, substance use care and residential treatment
  • $210 million in additional funds for institutions of higher education
  • $866 million for the TEXAS Grants programan increase of $80 million for the biennium, to fund growth; last session, I worked with members of our House Democratic Caucus and appropriators to ensure that a larger percentage of Texas college students would be able to participate in this critical program.

With over 300 amendments up for consideration on Wednesday, there will likely be changes, but as it leaves the House, the key provisions should largely remain the same. It’s important to remember, however, that there are still several critical steps in this process: consideration by the Senate, a House and Senate conference committee to address differences between chambers, and finally, the power of the governor’s pen and his line-item veto.

It is my hope that Texans won’t pay a price as they did two years ago and that as we move forward, our schools get the funds they need and deserve, we invest more in health care and create more paths to college.

We only make these important decisions every two years. We need to make sure they count.