AUSTIN – Texas House leaders released a starting-point budget proposal Thursday that would increase funding for priorities such as transportation, but leave billions of dollars unspent, allowing room for tax relief or other initiatives.
“This plan proves that the Texas House remains serious about fiscal discipline,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “We are able to hold spending in check while addressing some very important challenges related to our rapid growth.”
The two-year budget proposal would spend about $202.4 billion in state and federal money, about the same total as the current budget.
Looking only at state general-revenue money, the spending increase would be 3.9 percent, to $98.8 billion. That would leave $14.1 billion in general-revenue spending authority on the table, according to the Legislative Budget Board. About $8.1 billion of that could be spent while abiding by a state cap tying expenditures to economic growth.
The proposal will serve as a starting point for budget writers in the House. The Senate will craft its own budget and the differences between plans will be worked out in negotiations. Tax relief has been cited as a priority by state GOP leaders.
The initial budget’s bottom line is short of the approximately $101 billion in general-revenue funds the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for middle- and lower-income Texans, says is needed to continue existing services to a growing population.
The proposed plan would spend more than an additional $1 billion for roads, ending the spending of highway fund money for entities other than the Texas Department of Transportation.
House leaders also would use the budget to institute reforms, such as requiring greater oversight of state contracts in the wake of a burgeoning scandal at the Health and Human Services Commission.
The proposal would restore funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office, whose reach includes state officials, contingent on unspecified reforms.
Gov. Rick Perry in 2013 threatened to veto funding for the unit unless District AttorneyRosemary Lehmberg resigned in the wake of a drunken driving arrest and guilty plea. She stayed in office and Perry axed the money, leading to his indictment on charges he overstepped his authority.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said the “finishing touches” are being put on the senators’ starting-point budget, which she said “will be conservative, meet our needs, strengthen border security, address transportation and achieve significant tax relief.”