Budget Wins at the Capitol

Texas Lege finally funds public education


Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Leave it to Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen to declare victory and end the celebration at a stroke. On May 23, the Grand Triumvirate – Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Bonnen – assembled at the Governor's Mansion to announce a deal on the budget, property taxes, and school finance. "We won the Super Bowl today," Bonnen told the press, "and we're not going to talk about whether the quarterback or the running back had more of the success in our win." Translation: Ask us no questions and we'll tell you no lies.

Minus the confetti, there were indeed reasons to celebrate. A dam had broken after decades of obstruction, and the GOP leadership, House, and Senate had agreed to spend more money on public education. The omnibus budget bill (House Bill 1) includes $6.5 billion more for public schools, and another $5.1 billion to "buy down" school property taxes (as prescribed in HB 3, the "Texas Plan" school finance vehicle), a dual dispensation that for years has seemed impossible for lack of political will. If the deal remains intact beyond the upcoming biennium (a major uncertainty), the state will have moved from providing 38% of Texas public schools' direct financial support up to 45% – not a historical high-water mark, but a substantial improvement.

Simultaneously, the state will impose on local jurisdictions – cities and counties as well as schools – caps on property tax revenue increases, essentially forcing those entities to go to the voters to make major increases to their budgets. (The havoc that engenders will be felt on another day.) Public pressure on both fronts – taxes and schools – had reached a point that the two issues became intertwined, and the Lege couldn't fix one without also addressing the other. Moreover, the prospect of a competitive 2020 election meant the GOP majority could not reflexively kick the can to 2021. The open question is whether the juggling act – which also relies on one-time "rainy day" funding – can be sustained beyond the immediate biennium.

Overall, the $250.7 billion, two-year budget represents a 16% increase over 2017 (3.5% caps are for lesser folk), including a $6.1 billion rainy-day infusion for unpaid bills from this current biennium (Hurricane Harvey, other infrastructure). There's half a billion for new mental hospitals (including a new 240-bed Austin State Hospital), but also a $900 million reduction for Medicaid – possibly the most miserly gesture of the whole session.

But in a minor victory for the forces of sanity, the budget does not include an additional $100 million for a border security "surge" – lawmakers came to their senses on Sunday, after somebody pointed out that the current $800 million per biennium should be quite enough tribute to Trump.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More 86th Texas Legislature
Texas Rangers Get Wrangled Into
Texas Rangers Get Wrangled Into "Bonnenghazi" Drama
Scandal surrounding House Speaker Dennis Bonnen burns on

Mary Tuma, Aug. 16, 2019

Bonnenghazi! Drama Reigns in the Texas House
Bonnenghazi! Drama Reigns in the Texas House
Did the speaker give his hard-right enemy a political target list?

Mary Tuma, Aug. 9, 2019

More by Michael King
Eddie Rodriguez Concedes Senate Race to Sarah Eckhardt
Eddie Rodriguez Concedes Senate Race to Sarah Eckhardt
Longtime House rep foregoes run-off, emphasizes Dem party unity

July 31, 2020

Eddie Rodriguez Ends Senate Campaign
Rodriguez Ends Campaign
"I have decided to forego the run-off for Senate …"

July 27, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

86th Texas Legislature, Dennis Bonnen, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, state budget, property taxes, school finance, House Bill, House Bill 3, The Texas Plan, Austin State Hospital, Medicaid

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle