TEXAS – It's the only bill state lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass each session and Tuesday, the Texas Senate unanimously advanced its two-year, $250 billion state budget.
It keeps last session's promise to boost state funding of public schools while pumping the brakes on rising local school property taxes. The budget also allocates about $800 million for border security and more than $8 billion is going toward a range of programs for mental health. But the budget grew tight for social programs and higher education.
It also notably leaves out about $18 billion in federal funds meant to help students and schools make up lost ground due to the pandemic. Texas is one of a handful of states that hasn’t taken any steps to allocate the latest rounds of COVID-19 education relief dollars. Lawmakers say Texas’ holdup is that the state must wade through what strings are attached to the money before it accepts them.
"I just would hate for us to miss an opportunity to provide the federal funds in a way that we need them and get the most use out of them and have that slide go and have children fall further behind," Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said during the debate over the budget Tuesday.
Finance chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, responded that they're not going to let that happen.
But she couldn't answer questions about how billions of expected federal dollars will be used, including another $17 billion the state will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed last month. It was also unclear whether the money will arrive in time for lawmakers to use it this legislative session.
The Senate's spending plan also doesn't tap the state's "rainy day fund," which is expected to grow to $11.6 billion by 2023 if lawmakers don't touch it.
Capital Tonight spoke with two budget analysts about the spending plan. Click the video link above to watch that conversation with Eva DeLuna Castro of Every Texan and Vance Ginn with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.