Budget Nears Passage

Amidst all the chubbing on the House floor, the state budget for the 2010-11 biennium quietly made its next big step to being passed. The House wanted $177.4 billion for the biennium, while the Senate was looking for $182.2 billion. After a month of backroom negotiations in conference committee with members of both chambers, the final figure approved by unanimous vote on May 26 had inched up to $182.3 billion.

"It has a little more money added to it," said Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, including an extra last-minute boost in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Excluding those stimulus dollars, the budget represents a 2.2% per year increase over the 2008-09 figure of $169.8 billion. Beneath the headline numbers, the changes came about as money to pay for the bills that passed went in and cash for bills that failed was freed up. Funding sources changed: Following criticism that federal stimulus dollars were being spent on regular business, projects relating to the governor (including film incentives and mansion reconstruction) moved to general revenue. On some articles, such as Health & Human Services and General Government, the committee split the difference between the two versions. In others, like Higher Educa­tion, the final number slightly exceeded both versions.

For Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the final numbers showed that "at a time when Texans around the state are having to tighten their belts, we're doing the same thing," while still putting extra money into education, funding $4.9 billion in transportation bonds, and adding some real teeth to regulatory agencies.

Under the 24-hour posting rule, the budget was eligible for debate by House and Sen­ate on Wednesday; both Pitts and Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden were confident that it would be passed by Thursday. But with concerns about the economy and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act compliance swirling, the real cost of the budget may not be known until all the money is spent.

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