The Budget

After a floor debate clocking in at over 17 hours, yesterday morning the Texas House overwhelmingly passed our version of the state’s two-year budget.

As with every state budget, it wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a step in the right direction in addressing critical needs, including adding more funding for public education.

In fact, the House version of the budget increases funding for public schools by $2.2 billion, with another $800 million to be added if an important school finance measure is passed. It’s important to note that with this new addition, the amount the House approved for public education is nearly $3 billion more than that proposed by the Senate.

In addition to these added funds, my colleague, Representative Yvonne Davis, successfully inserted language which will help ensure that if Pre-K legislation passes, it will have the needed funding, estimated at nearly $830 million per year — an important investment in the future of our state.

The budget also allocates $1.4 billion more for Child Protective Services to address the agency’s high turnover rates and the need for more caseworkers. It injects $340 million more to be used for mental health services, and increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians, with the goal of increasing the number of available providers.

Even with these additions, there was still money left on the table, including $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and up to another $8 billion in general revenue left to be spent. These are funds that could have been allocated to address some critical needs, including reducing waitlists for vital long-term health services, home care, and facility to community transition services. Currently, those lists include over 10,000 Texans, many of whom have been waiting for years for services. This is something that must be addressed.

During the long debate, I was active in fighting for the issues that matter to House District 101, including asking several questions about our community colleges and pushing for increased funding to address the rising enrollment at institutions like Tarrant County College. Since last session’s implementation of a new finance system for community colleges, only a dozen institutions have received additional funding based on improvement in student outcomes, despite the fact that 48 of 50 community colleges showed improved performance.

I also filed several amendments aimed to increase access to preventative healthcare for women, focused largely on reducing funding for so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are unlicensed and unregulated, and moving those funds to programs with proven track records of providing actual medical care to women in need.

Although I didn’t end up presenting them on the floor, filing these measures proved to be a helpful tactic, which ultimately resulted in several Republican House members pulling down their anti-women’s health amendments.

On the issue of healthcare, I fought an effort to move $1.5 million away from the state’s HIV/STD Prevention Program to add more funding to abstinence-only education. This move makes no sense, as Texas already receives more federal funding for abstinence-only education than other state in the country, and the evidence shows it is not working. Our state has the third highest rate of HIV infections in the nation and has the 11th highest rate of reported STDs, yet, in the end, the Republican majority chose to take away vital funding from the program created to address HIV and STD prevention.

And, I worked to defeat an effort to cut off transportation for funding for commuter and light rail projects.

Over the next several weeks, House and Senate negotiators will try to work out differences and agree to a budget.