After a fifteen-hour marathon debate, the Texas House passed a two year $218 billion budget that raids the Rainy Day Fund by a vote of 131–16.
The $218 billion budget includes $2.5 billion from the state’s savings account (roughly one quarter of the current balance) for ongoing expenses. The lawmakers who voted against the budget primarily did so because of that unnecessary spending provision.
In a statement released earlier this week by the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of a dozen conservative lawmakers pledged to vote against any budget that raids the Rainy Day Fund.
“The proposed House budget calls for spending money from the ESF for typical budget expenses such as border security, teachers’ healthcare and student financial aid,” said the caucus members. “These are ordinary items that we can address with existing funds. They are not one-time expenses. It is worth noting the Texas Senate passed a budget 31-0 without using any money from the Rainy Day Fund. There is no revenue shortfall.”
“The Texas Freedom Caucus will be voting no on a budget that spends our state’s savings account without a compelling reason to do so,” the group’s statement concluded.
Ultimately 16 lawmakers voted against raiding the budget:
State Reps. Kyle Biedermann (R–Fredericksburg), Briscoe Cain (R–Baytown), Yvonne Davis (D–Dallas), Pat Fallon (R–Denton), Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant), Matt Krause (R–Fort Worth), Mike Lang (R–Granbury), Jeff Leach (R–Plano), Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving), Scott Sanford (R–McKinney), Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler), Matt Shaheen (R–Plano), Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford), Valoree Swanson (R–Spring), Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington), Bill Zedler (R–Arlington)
Despite the final vote, there were two bright spots for conservatives when lawmakers successfully defunded two major items of corporate welfare, the Texas Enterprise Fund and the state’s “Film and Music Marketing Program,” and inserted a rider preventing tax dollars from flowing to organizations that perform abortions.
The Texas Enterprise Fund was zeroed-out by State Rep. Sergio Munoz (D–Palmview), who split the $43 million fund in half with one part going to CPS and another to disability services. Film and music subsidies meanwhile fell to a tag-team effort by Collin County representatives Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen.
Likewise, Texans saw the nastier side of politics when State Rep. Drew Springer (R–Muenster) hijacked an amendment by Jonathan Stickland targeting the state’s wasteful feral hog abatement program.
Casting aside any respect for decorum, seriousness, or statesmanship, Springer added a provision to Stickland’s amendment stripping $900,000 in transportation funding from the city of Bedford, which is in Stickland’s district. In a sign of the pettiness of most House members, 99 lawmakers voted in favor of the vindictive Springer amendment and Stickland was forced to abandon his effort.
As the clock inched close to 2 am, a group of lawmakers reached a deal to pull down all remaining amendments in exchange for House leadership concurring in an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. After the anti-abortion amendment was adopted, debate was closed and the bill was approved.
With the budget now passed by the Texas House, citizens’ eyes turn to Texas Senate Finance Chairman Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound), who will lead the conference committee on the budget. So far, Nelson has publicly and ardently opposed spending money from the Rainy Day Fund and been supported by a number of conservative members of the Texas Senate and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Conservative hopes of protecting the state savings account rest on Patrick, Nelson, and the Texas Senate holding the line and refusing to become accomplices to the House’s fiscal recklessness.