Lege Lines: "Texas Plan" Hits Home

School finance heads to the house floor

Rep. Dan Huberty, the House Public Education Committee Chair, introduces HB 3. (Photo by John Anderson)

School district officials across Texas got their first look at how House Bill 3 – the so-called "Texas Plan" – would impact their recapture payments and per-pupil funding should it become law. Austin ISD's recapture payment would drop by $194 million in 2020 under the new law, and the district would receive an additional $1,759 per student. Under the current system, AISD is expected to pay $669 million in recapture payments this year alone. The bill would also reduce property tax payments by $100 on a $200,000 home in Austin.

But HB 3 still has a long way to go before becoming law. As we go to press, the House has passed its school finance plan with more than three dozen amendments, including some major changes; the bill now will need to be reconciled with a significantly different Senate plan. With the adoption of the House budget bill on March 27, the Senate agreed to match its $9 billion for schools and property tax "reform," but wants to reserve $4 billion of that for across-the-board teacher and librarian pay increases, whereas the House wants to give school districts leeway to spend that money as they see fit. Conference committees will work out the differences...

Throwing Money at CPCs: The House budget debate was relatively calm compared to prior sessions, but a move to increase funding to the Alternatives to Abortion program – largely a network of faith-based "crisis pregnancy centers" armed with medical misinformation to dissuade women from abortion care – sparked pushback from Democratic lawmakers. The amendment by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, more than doubled the A2A budget to $90 million on a mostly party-line 83-64 vote. (The new funding was diverted from IT spending at the Health and Human Services Commission, the site of recurrent procurement scandals.) A countermeasure by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, to divert A2A funds to child care failed; both Turner and Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, pointed out that unlike other state-funded social service programs A2A provides no evidence-based performance metrics, leaving legislators and the public without proof of return on their hefty investment. Krause himself was unable to say how many people have been served by A2A, instead reiterating that the program promotes a "culture of life." Meanwhile, lawmakers shot down an effort to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act; Texas remains the largest state not to do so. An amendment by freshman Rep. John Bucy, D-Cedar Park, that would have extended eligibility for coverage to an estimated 1.1 million low-income residents sank in a 66-80 vote on strict party lines...

Senators Slap at Planned Parenthood: On third reading Tuesday, April 2, the Senate passed the Lege's first major anti-choice bill, ushering through a bill targeting Planned Parenthood and specifically its center on E. Seventh Street that's leased from the city of Austin. Senate Bill 22 by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, bars local governments from contracting with abortion providers "and affiliates." "Texans who oppose abortion should not be forced to subsidize the industry with their tax dollars," said Campbell, whose bill jeopardizes preventive health care for more than 5,000 women at a center that does not provide abortion care. Republicans shot down amendments that sought to mitigate the damage, including a measure to exempt contracts that address public health crises like Zika and another to protect local spending on basic services like cancer and HIV screenings and contraception. "If we want to prevent abortions, the issue should be that we should prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies," said amendment author Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. SB 22 now moves to the House...

Fighting Over Film Funding: The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program – the state's rebate for film, TV, and gaming production – took a pummeling during the House budget debate. At the beginning of the session, Gov. Greg Abbott proposed $50 million for the program, which House budget writers cut down to $22.8 million. Breaking along party lines, the House approved a move by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, to divert $18 million of that to the Healthy Texas Women program, leaving just $4.8 million to cover operations of the Texas Film Commission. Advocates for the program (which has been calculated to generate $5 of in-state spending for every $1 rebated) are optimistic the funds will be restored in conference; more on the TMIIIP in next week's issue.

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86th Texas Legislature, House Bill 3, Texas Plan, recapture, Austin Independent School District, property tax, reproductive rights, Alternatives to Abortion, crisis pregnancy centers, Matt Krause, Chris Turner, Donna Howard, Medicaid, John Bucy, Planned Parenthood, Senate Bill 22, Donna Campbell, José Menéndez, Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, Greg Abbott

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