After almost eighteen continuous hours of discussion, interrogation, and confrontation, the overnight debut of HB 1 ended in the Texas House with a 141-5 vote to passage at 5:39 a.m. on April 1. This base budget plan, submitted by Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), arrived on the House floor Tuesday morning with more than 350 proposed amendments up for debate.
The hours of debate were punctuated by heated exchanges, as well as ideological clashes between liberal establishment members and liberty-minded conservatives.
- Amendment 1 by Otto sought to add $800 million in funding to the Texas Education Agency, a move staunchly opposed by fiscal conservatives. Two amendments to Otto’s amendment were passed. The first appropriated $11 million to the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (MIIIP), and the second, authored by Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), added an additional $1.6 billion for a state-supported pre-kindergarten program, a measure contingent on the passage of HB 424.
- Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) fought to defund the Film and Music Marketing Program, citing government waste and the misalignment of film projects with the interests of Texas taxpayers. However, his amendment to do so was outvoted 111-32 after disparagement from his colleagues, especially Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs). Rinaldi’s later attempt to eliminate the Texas Enterprise Fund was similarly defeated 119-22.
- Amendment 68 by Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) sought to take $3 million from STD prevention programs and put them towards abstinence funding instead. Democrats pressed Spitzer to outline clear budget goals and questioned the effectiveness of abstinence education. In the face of increasingly crass questioning by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Spitzer defended his position based on morally and fiscally responsible principles, and the amendment was eventually passed 97-47.
- Amendment 137 by Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy), which sought to increase governmental transparency, would have kept appropriations from compensating state employees earning more than $90,000 per year. Though the amendment was ultimately tabled by a 99-43 vote, Schofield’s defense emphasized the need for taxpayers to know how elected officials are spending their money.
- Amendment 158 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) considered funding the Texas State Guard with money from the Department of Agriculture. In his own counter-amendment, Rep. Schaefer advocated taking those funds from the Film and Music Marketing programs instead, perhaps to force the House into an uncomfortable choice between state defense and Hollywood. Schaefer’s amendment, however, was promptly tabled.
- Eventually, Huberty acquired funding for the Texas State Guard with his Amendment 161, which takes $2.2 million from the Facilities Commission over the next biennium and gives it to the Military Department for training.
- In the dead of night, Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) proposed Amendment 207 to eliminate the Feral Hog Abatement Program, much to the pun-laden amusement of his colleagues. But Stickland was serious. “We can do a better job of solving this problem if we get government out of the way,” said the Bedford representative, sticking to free market principles and the elimination of government incompetency. Nevertheless, Stickland’s amendment was tabled.
- Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) proposed Amendment 231 to eliminate the lottery, noting its disproportionately negative effects for the poor. In easily the nastiest moment of the HB 1 debate, Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) angrily inquired of Sanford’s position on previous poverty-related bills, maligned Sanford’s intentions, and abrasively concluded with a personal insult.
- Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) delicately defended his Amendment 251, which would have defunded the Texas Racing Commission. Krause cited the commission’s lack of necessity and constitutionality, but Reps. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) and Debbie Riddle (R-Spring) quickly jumped on the opportunity to frame Krause as anti-horses and anti-racing. Krause’s effort failed, but his objective to defund a rogue governmental commission is laudable.
- In the final dramatic moment of the night, Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) argued for his Amendment 258 requiring the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) to publicly report estimated unexpended revenues on a monthly basis. “It’s a knowable figure,” said Schaefer. Otto quickly objected, severely assuring Schaefer of the impossibility of accuracy and the absurdity of blaming the LBB for a number that was difficult to estimate to begin with.
Rep. Stickland intervened in Schaefer’s defense. “Many times, legislators have been told, ‘Hey, these issues have been taken care of, and you can trust us,” said Stickland. “What Schaefer is asking for…is for us to have the same information you have. As a member it is very frustrating that constantly we don’t have the full information.” Otto moved to table Schaefer’s amendment, and the measure died 113-26.
This last exchange perfectly captured House elitism in action. Like an all-knowing schoolteacher, Otto dismissed Rep. Schaefer’s earnest concern as absurd, claiming expertise in matters too complex for the knowledge of legislators not involved in the appropriations process.
This attitude of authority, reflected in the Otto-Schaefer-Stickland exchange, and magnified in the head House officials, has now been verified by the budget that is newly approved and headed to the Senate. Devoid of tax relief and stuffed with politically motivated appropriations, HB 1 signifies a reckless impulse to spend, an Icarian aversion to accountability, and mounting ignorance of the principles of liberty that alone can promise to make Texas strong.