House Budget Day 2023: What Happened and What’s Next

Each legislative session, one of the big milestones in the Texas House is Budget Day, when the entire body debates and votes on the immense budget for the entire state government for the next two fiscal years. This year, Budget Day was Thursday, April 4.

A few days beforehand, members may file amendments to be considered on the floor – and there are often a lot of amendments, as it’s one of the last opportunities for members to get their pet proposals into the budget. As a result, Budget Day often goes late into the night.

As members work their way through the 1000-page budget, amendments can be simply adopted with no discussion; debated and voted upon; withdrawn; or moved to the dreaded Article XI. This last option is the section of the budget that is often called a “wish list” – technically, these measures can be reviewed later in the process and put back into the budget if the conference committee decides to do so. But that’s rare.

This session’s Budget Day turned out to be a little unusual. By Monday’s pre-filing deadline, 388 amendments had been filed, a decent number suggesting we were in for a typically long night. But when the action began, many amendments were immediately withdrawn, without discussion, leaving less for the House to debate. By the end, 71 amendments were adopted to the bill (including floor amendments to amendments, and not including numerous amendments adopted to Article XI). Most were in articles I (17), II (12), or III (17), and eight amendments actually led to discussions and floor votes. 

It seemed clear that the Democratic members withdrew many of their bills to allow sharper focus on their highest priorities. The most action happened during the review of Article III, which includes public and higher education. In a prior House Appropriations Committee hearing, House Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer had promised the Democrats would try to add more money to the budget for schools and teachers, and clearly – in contrast to the withdrawal of many amendments earlier in the day – lawmakers chose to go to the mat for a number of specific measures in this section.

  • A Martinez-Fischer amendment to increase teacher salaries by $10,000 ($4 billion total) failed 66-79. The vote followed a memorable exchange between Martinez-Fischer and Rep. Jared Patterson that ended with Martinez-Fischer thanking Patterson for “not caring about teachers.”
  • An amendment by Rep. John Bryant for a cost-of-living adjustment for TRS retirees ($4.6 billion) was withdrawn on a point of order.
  • Another amendment by Bryant would have raised the public education basic allotment – the foundational amount of public school funding – by $600 to $6,760. The amendment failed 62-85.

Two other amendments in Article III were especially noteworthy. Reflecting the debate over school vouchers (“education savings accounts”) taking place in the Senate, an amendment offered by Rep. Herrero would have prevented any budgeted funds from going to any such programs. On a vote, the amendment passed and was accepted into the budget. But the vote tally – 86-52 with 11 present-not-voting – signaled more support for vouchers than we were hoping and may not bode well for the tough fight to come. Previous such votes, reflecting an alliance between Democrats and rural Republicans in backing our public schools, have typically had over 100 representatives voting in support.

One of the most controversial items in the budget has been the rider on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that would prohibit colleges and universities from spending funds on DEI-related initiatives or hiring staff to work in such programs. Rep. Neave-Criado sponsored an amendment to remove the rider, and a number of members, including Reps. Wu, Reynolds, and others spoke passionately about the importance of DEI programs for students and educators. No one actually spoke in support of the rider, but the vote failed 64-83, and the rider remained in the budget.

In Article II, which includes the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and other state public health agencies, Every Texan analysts were watching a couple of specific amendments. An amendment by Rep. Plesa was approved to increase funding for Early Childhood Intervention programs by $6 million for the biennium.

But another amendment, by Rep. Vasut, added $40 million more per year to the Alternatives to Abortion program. This program provides counseling – not health care – for expectant families and claims to have seen dramatically higher usage since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade. This $40 million increase was in addition to the $60 million annual funding in the base budget, which itself constituted a $20 million increase over the prior biennium. In all, these are huge increases for a program that shortchanges legitimate, underfunded health care services provided for needy Texans via Medicaid and state agency initiatives and instead replaces them with counseling services with little oversight.

The budget passed its final vote in the House with 10 votes against – eight Democrats and two Republicans.

But the night wasn’t over, as the House still had to vote on SB 30, the supplemental budget bill for the 2022-2023 biennium that settles up spending related to the previous budget. The supplemental spent about $5 billion in General Revenue and $12 billion in all funds.

It has become customary in recent years for the Legislature to under-budget for Medicaid’s caseload growth and inflation and then make up for it in the supplemental. True to form, SB 30 included $3 billion for Medicaid to cover the current biennium’s shortfall. Unfortunately, tacked onto that appropriation was a rider giving yet even more funding to the Alternatives to Abortion program – an additional $23 million for fiscal 2023.

The other unexpected Article II amendment was a hail-mary attempt by Rep. Chris Turner to expand Medicaid eligibility – a no-brainer already embraced by 40 states, but something that Texas stubbornly refuses to do. Instead, out of spite, our Legislature and governor opt to leave millions of dollars in federal funds on the table instead of providing health care for more of our state’s most vulnerable low-income residents. The vote to expand Medicaid failed 65-83.

As for education, the House adopted a few significant amendments, including approximately $3.5 billion to implement HB 600, a pending bill that would provide TRS retirees a much-needed cost-of-living increase of between 2 and 6%, depending on retirement date. The House also increased the school safety allotment by $1.6 billion and bumped up special education grants by $100 million.

After Budget Day

The House budget passed on Budget Day was quickly sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which considered it on Thursday, April 13 – but not before substituting it for their own version. 

The controversial DEI rider is also present in the Senate budget, with even broader and more vague language. In committee, Sen. West asked Education Committee chair Sen. Creighton a number of questions about the intent of the rider and was told that the language was still open to debate.

West returned to the issue on April 17 when the Senate took up the budget on the floor. In contrast to the House, the Senate often approves the budget in short order with no amendments and little debate. But as promised, Sen. West did introduce an amendment that would strike the DEI rider. Unfortunately, the amendment was tabled on a party-line vote, and, following that momentary delay, the budget was passed unanimously.

What’s in the budgets?

While the Senate budget would spend approximately $6 billion more than the House version, the budgets are largely similar. One major difference lies in the size and method of the enormous property tax cut provisions. As we have previously outlined, the Senate budget includes a $16.5 billion combination of school property tax compression and a flat-dollar increase in the homestead exemption up to $70,000 ($100,000 for homeowners over 65). On the House side, the property tax cuts cost almost a billion more and hinge on reducing the appraisal cap (of all property – not just residential) from 10% to 5%. Although Every Texan opposes both these plans because they continue to underinvest in our people, the Senate’s version is a more equitable approach overall.

A pay raise for Texas’s state workers is long overdue. Both versions of the budget grant 5 % raises for state employees over each of the next two fiscal years, a much-appreciated move that will help our state government retain staff whose families are suffering from inflation and wage stagnation. We still hope to see a cost-of-living adjustment for state retired workers, who have not received a benefit increase since 2001.

As for the health care-related provisions in Article II, the House and Senate budgets both include increases for a number of women’s health programs, including Healthy Texas Women, the Family Planning Program, and breast and cervical cancer screening programs, with the House version providing slightly higher funding. These programs offer actual health care – screening, prevention, and treatment for low-income and uninsured Texas women – not simply counseling like the Alternatives to Abortion program.

Every Texan analysts are also watching for Article II item provisions to support the “unwinding” of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – rechecking eligibility of recipients as the pandemic emergency ends. Advocates are very concerned that many eligible families will wrongly lose coverage, so it is essential that agencies are given adequate staff and resources to properly administer this process. Both budgets provide about $2.3 billion for these needs, an increase over the last biennium, with the Senate version of the budget providing less.

What’s next?

Every Texan will drill down further on differences between the House and Senate budgets in a future blog post as the conference committee begins to reconcile the two bills. This group will be made up of five members from each house, appointed by the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor, who negotiate behind closed doors to craft a single compromise budget. From the House, the conferees will include Reps. Bonnen, Mary Gonzalez, Jetton, VanDeaver, and Walle (three Republicans and two Democrats). The Senate will be represented by five Republicans: Sens. Huffman, Creighton, Kolkhorst, Nichols, and Schwertner.

As the process unfolds, we will continue encouraging the public to contact the conferees’ offices to advocate for or against certain budget provisions.

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