The Austin Chronicle

Budget Breakdown

By Richard Whittaker, February 6, 2015, News

In 2013, Sen. Kirk Watson warned that Texas' austerity budgets should not become the new normal. The first drafts of the 2015-16 spending plans from the House and Senate could leave the Austin Democrat disappointed. With trivial overall increases in both versions, and internal cuts to many agencies, the conservative agenda trumps all. In an ominous burst of symbolism, Senate Finance committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has broken with tradition that the upper chamber's version be filed as Senate Bill 1: Instead, she's reserving that for tax cut measures. Equally, Speaker Joe Straus says that House Bill 1 shows "a commitment to fiscal discipline."

Total Proposed Budget

House: $202 billion (+0.2 from 2014-15 budget)

Senate: $205 billion (+1.5 from 2014-15 budget)

Both chambers propose a slight increase in their baseline budgets, and both depend on General Revenue funds to pay for it. In fact, General Revenue fills some big holes, since both draft budgets forecast a decline in both Dedicated General Revenue and Federal funds, and less gas-tax revenue is diverted from the transportation budget to other agencies.

Article I – General Government

House: $4.9 billion (-6.8%)

Senate: $4.8 billion (-7.7%)

Both chambers propose dramatic cuts to government operations, mostly explained by old programs and grants ending, or old bonds being paid off. There could be dramatic cuts to the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program and reforms to the Texas Enterprise Fund. And Gov. Greg Abbott has called to terminate the scandal-wracked Texas Emerging Technology Fund altogether.

II – Health and Human Services

House: $76 billion (+1.7%)

Senate: $75 billion (+0.5)

The headline numbers seem static, but there are massive shifts in revenue sources, as both drafts struggle with Medicaid shortfalls, and children shifting from CHIP to Medicaid. The Department of Aging and Dis­abil­ity Services takes a staggering 28.3% budget cut, as the state gets out of the residential-care business, and the Senate plan restructures the funding stream for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program in a way that further constricts funding for Planned Parenthood.

III – Education

House: $76 billion (+3.3%)

Senate: $77 billion (+4.7%)

The upper chamber proposes a $3.2 billion (5.8%) boost for public education, and only 1.5% for higher ed – a bad sign for calls for tuition re-regulation. The House wants a slightly more generous $396 million (2.1%) more for colleges, but is seemingly more miserly with grade schools, with only $2 billion (3.7%) extra to track growth.

IV – Judiciary

House: $762 million (-0.3%) Senate: $753 million (-1.4%)

Big cuts for the Texas Indigent Defense Commis­sion, whose 2014-15 boost becomes a one-off deal. Continuing the pattern of vindictiveness over the prosecution of Gov. Rick Perry, the Senate also proposes cutting all cash for the Public Integrity Unit.

V – Public Safety and Criminal Justice

House: $11 billion (-3.3%)

Senate: $12 billion (+0.3%)

Another restructuring: The push to end diversions means that the billions in gas revenue that funded DPS operations now go into transportation, and that means more demand on general revenue.

VI – Natural Resources

House: $4 billion (-42.8%)

Senate: $4 billion (-42.2%)

The end of one-time payments to the General Land Office and the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas account for most of this dramatic drop, but key regulators like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are still laughably underfunded.

VII – Business and Economic Development

House: $28 billion (+2.1%)

Senate: $30 billion (+9.9%)

Big boosts to the Department of Transportation, due to the end of diversions. The two drafts differ radically over Senate plans to transfer some Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services programs to the Texas Workforce Commission.

VIII – Regulatory

House: $920 million (-18.3%)

Senate: $900 million (-20.1%)

Massive cuts for the Public Utility Commission, while Senators zero out funding for the Texas Racing Commission, seemingly as punishment for the commissioners' decision to allow "historic gambling" – betting on races that have already happened – in spite of Senate instruction.

IX – General Provisions

House: $1.7 million (N/A)

Senate: $1.7 million (N/A)

Consider Article IX a holding pattern for employee positions that will be moved into other articles later.

X – The Legislature

House: $382 million (+2.1%)

Senate: $382 million (+2.1%)

Well, at least one agency's spending is tracking inflation.

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