On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate passed its budget for the 2016-17 biennium. At $211.4 billion, the Senate budget is slightly larger (by a margin of roughly $1.5 billion) than its House counterpart. However, the increase is not due to more spending, but may be attributed to the more than $2 billion in additional tax cuts contained in the proposal.
“The Senate has passed a responsible budget that will keep Texas strong,” stated Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) after the bill’s passage.
The measure passed the Senate 30-1, with Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D – Houston) casting the lone dissenting vote.
Major items in the Senate budget include $4.5 billion in tax relief for both businesses and individuals, an additional $811 million for border security, and $1.2 billion dollars for school enrollment growth. It also calls for a 15% reduction in the onerous franchise tax and exempts many small businesses. The Senate version also provides more funds for criminal justice and public education, while the House version prioritizes transportation and Health and Human Services.
Unlike the Senate’s $2 billion allotment for property tax relief, the House includes no provision.
Beyond differences in major items, there are also several stark differences on matters conservatives have been watching closely. The Senate budget defunds the Texas Racing Commission, a rogue agency that defied lawmakers and attempted to expand gambling in the Lone Star State. They were quickly rebuffed in a judicial appeal that held their action unconstitutional.
The Senate also zeroes out the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, the entity headed by disgraced District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg that came under a line item veto by former Gov. Rick Perry. Rather than continue to fund the hypocritical agency that has been used by Democrats to target conservative state officials, the Senate has passed legislation to disband it, placing its authority in the hands of the Texas Rangers instead.
Attention will now turn to the members that will make up the conference committee. Appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus (R – San Antonio), the conferees will reconcile the differences in the two proposals before bringing them back to their respective chambers for a vote.
Affirming his strong support of the Senate version, Patrick issued a statement upon passage.
“Texans have declared they want leadership that keeps this state the beacon of economic prosperity and freedom,” said Patrick. “The Senate has been working day and night to deliver on Texans priorities because it is what Texans deserve. This comprehensive budget addresses the priorities and needs of Texans. It includes business and property tax relief, strong border security, quality public education, prioritized transportation funding and more.”