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How do the Texas House and Senate Budgets Compare?

The House and Senate have passed their own versions of a budget, but crucial differences remain.

Now the two chambers must reconcile their funding priorities before they can agree on a final draft and send it to the governor.

At first glance, the House’s $218.1 billion budget and the Senate’s $217.7 billion budget do not seem far off.

But on some of the most hot-button issues, including public education and health care, the chambers took markedly different approaches about what to fund, how to fund it, and what to cut.

Here’s a look at how the two budget proposals compare, using information from the Legislative Budget Board.

Total budget

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The House and Senate are pretty close on their total spending, but their methods of finance vary greatly. The House would use $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account that currently has a balance of more than $10 billion. The House also freed up $1.9 billion for the next two-year budget by delaying a payment for public schools.

The Senate, on the other hand, finds extra revenue by delaying a $2.5 billion payment to the highway fund that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2015 to boost the state’s efforts toward addressing congestion. House budget writers have argued that that accounting trick is unconstitutional.

Medicaid funding

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Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, is one of the Legislature’s largest funding requirements. The House Medicaid budget includes $63.2 billion (of which $25.8 billion comes from state revenue), while the Senate budget would spend $63.9 billion (of which $26.2 billion comes from state revenue).

Despite the program’s expected growth due in part to how fast the state’s population is growing, the House budget assumes it can cut costs by $2.6 billion because of “increased federal flexibility” under the Trump administration.

Neither the House nor the Senate budget covers the projected cost of medical inflation.

Related story: Texas House budget writers send budget to full House with massive health care cut

Public education funding

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Public schools are another of the Legislature’s largest expenses, and the vast majority of that spending goes through the Foundation School Program. Texas public schools are expected to grow by more than 80,000 students annually, meaning the state needs to spend more in its next budget to maintain the current levels of spending per student.

The House budget would spend $42.1 billion on public schools. While that’s less than current state spending on schools, House leaders are also working on adding another $1.5 billion into public education through a separate school finance reform package favored by House Speaker Joe Straus. The House budget also pushes $1.9 billion into the next two-year budget cycle by delaying a payment to schools.

The Senate budget, meanwhile, would spend $42.0 billion, but it would cut state spending on schools by $1.8 billion. That is mostly made up for by revenue collected by local governments from rising property taxes.

Related story: Texas Senate approves its budget, shifting school costs to local taxpayers

Child Protective Services and foster care funding

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Amid a crisis in the state’s child welfare system, lawmakers in both chambers voted to boost funding for Child Protective Services and foster care. Both the House and Senate are spending more money to tackle many of the same child welfare priorities, including hiring more CPS caseworkers and continuing pay raises for many frontline workers.

Yet each chamber’s budget only boosts funding by about half of what CPS told lawmakers it needed to address its most pressing problems. The House budget would boost spending for vulnerable children’s programs by about $546 million, while the Senate budget includes a $429 million bump.

Related story: Houston foster child’s death spurs concern over placement shortages

High-quality pre-kindergarten funding

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The fight over pre-kindergarten funding has been one of the main political flashpoints of the legislative session so far. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on lawmakers to fund $236 million for his preferred “high-quality” pre-K grants — “or not at all.” Neither chamber is currently on track to heed his words. The House set aside $117 million for “enhanced pre-kindergarten capacity,” while the Senate offered $65 million for a “public-private partnership” for pre-K programs.

Related story: Texas Senate panel tentatively votes to defund Abbott’s pre-K program

Border security funding

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Despite a Republican president in the White House who has vowed to dramatically boost federal border security efforts, both chambers are largely committed to the surge in border funding they approved in 2015, which pays mostly for the stationing of state troopers in counties near the Texas-Mexico border.

But where the House and Senate disagree is whether to maintain the current surge or boost it even further. The House approved $653.1 million, which would maintain the current level of trooper deployment, while the Senate approved $800 million, which includes a plan to hire 250 new troopers and 126 additional support staff.

Related story: Texas poised to maintain most of its border funding for Trump’s first years

Tapping the Rainy Day Fund

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Another touchy subject this year is whether lawmakers are willing to use their savings account to help weather tough times. The House proposal would use $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, which currently has a balance of more than $10 billion fed largely by state taxes on oil and gas production.

The Senate’s budget does not touch the fund, instead relying on an accounting trick involving transportation funds that has drawn sharp criticism from House leaders. Abbott has recently declined to take a firm position on the Rainy Day Fund, though he told lawmakers earlier this year he was confident they could balance the budget without “looting” their savings account.

Authors: Chris Essig and Edgar Walters – The Texas Tribune

About The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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