After nearly 10 hours of discussion and occasionally intense debate, the Texas House of Representatives approved a nearly $302 billion two-year budget on Thursday that Republicans say will boost public education and provide relief to property owners.
Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, said the spending plan was the culmination of weeks of bipartisan work.
He said Thursday's discussions on the budget bill, along with more than 400 amendments considered, will "produce a final budget that represents the priorities of the state.”
This legislative session, the main priority for House Republicans has been providing tax relief to Texas homeowners. Their spending plan earmarks $17 billion to cut the state’s appraisal yearly caps to five percent.
The House approved the budget 136-10. It now goes to the Texas Senate for the consideration of that chamber.
in a voice vote. It needs to clear one additional procedural vote before it's sent to the Senate for consideration.
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, was one of the lawmakers who voted against the proposal. She said this was her first time voting against her chamber's budget bill since taking office in 2017.
Hinojosa said the budget doesn't do enough for public schools and teachers.
"We put mandates and constraints on our public schools and we do not fully fund these schools," Hinojosa said. "But notwithstanding, our teachers come through and they make it work."
Anti-school voucher amendment
One of the most interesting moments of the day concerned an amendment that would prohibit public money to be redirected to private schools in the form of school vouchers or education savings accounts.
Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, filed the amendment, saying all his amendment does is restate "what is already in the constitution. And that is the funds appropriated for our public schools will remain as such."
The amendment was approved 86-52. Eleven members voted present.
BIG news: The TX House has adopted a budget amendment that would PROHIBIT the use of public funds form the creation of voucher-like programs like school vouchers and education savings accounts.
Implementing ESAs is big item for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. #txlege https://t.co/s74s1ajjw7
— Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (@SergioMarBel) April 6, 2023
This is not the first time such an amendment has passed in the budget. But this year, it's different. The vote is a blow to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Both have been actively campaigning and pushing for Education Savings Accounts, a voucher-like program.
Gov. Abbott's office didn't respond to The Texas Newsroom's request for comment.
The amendment's adoption also signals that rural Republicans still worry the implementation of school vouchers could have negative effects on public schools in their areas.
But Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, spoke against the anti-school voucher amendment. He said people can support public schools and also support giving parents the choice to send their kids to private schools.
"The vast majority of kids in Texas will always go to public schools and I want them to thrive," Frank told his colleagues. "But no matter how good the school is in your district ... every child has different needs and parents should have available options."
Prohibition on DEI programs
Meanwhile, the Texas House voted to keep language in the budget that prohibits the use of public funds for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.
Abbott, as well as other top Republicans, have spoken out against DEI efforts.
The Republican governor recently told state agencies that using race or diversity to hire people is illegal, the Texas Tribune reported.
Democrats and civic leaders have railed against the guidance.
Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, D-Dallas, filed an unsuccessful amendment that would have struck down the budget's provision prohibiting such programs.
"Which of these three threaten our triumphs?" Neave Criado asked. "The diversity of our state has made Texas a beacon for economic development."
Rep. Josey Garcia, D-San Antonio, said she was appalled to have this included in the budget.
"Imagine my surprise, as the only Afro Latina woman veteran to serve in this House, to see our very diversity and very equity, our very inclusion is being attacked," Garcia said.
The amendment, however, didn't have the support of the Republican majority and failed.
Alternatives to abortion
House Republicans successfully pushed for a budget amendment that would increase funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program by $40 million per year in the next biennium.
The program supports new and expecting mothers. However, the Texas Tribune reported in 2021 that the initiative lacks data on where and how the money is spent.
Democrats opposed the amendment, saying it doesn't address the big issues new mothers face, like finding affordable childcare.
Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, spoke in favor of his amendment, saying it "provides additional funding to a critical program that provides resources to expectant, and current young mothers."
"This program reaches a lot of needs, not just a narrowed class," Vasut said.
AG Paxton's lawsuits
Democrats had mixed results on amendments focused on the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Talarico authored an amendment that would reduce Paxton's salary to $1 annually while the rest of his allocated compensation would instead be used to pay for a settlement reached by some of his former employees.
Four former employees of the office sued Paxton after they were fired, alleging the terminations were related to their accusing Paxton of abuse of office.
Talarico's amendment was mostly symbolic and he eventually moved it to Article XI, an area of the budget referred to as the wishlist.
Democratic Leader Trey Martinez Fischer fared better when he passed an amendment that would require the attorney general's office to provide a semi-annual report on how much state money is being spent on suing the federal government.
The amendment requires the report to be sent to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker, budget-writing committees and be posted online.
Paxton is known for celebrating his several lawsuits against Democrats in the White House, including several he's filed against the Biden administration on issues that include immigration, federal spending and proposed environmental regulations.
Border security funding
Absent from this session's budget debate was the normally heated exchange over border security spending.
As passed, the House budget includes about $4.6 billion over the next biennium for border security operations, which includes funding for Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star, a controversial state-led effort that began in 2021.
The bulk of that money — some $2.25 billion — would go to the Texas Military Department, while about $1.2 billion would go to the Department of Public Safety. The remaining funds, about $1 billion, would go to the governor's office according to the Legislative Budget Board's summary of the bill.
Included in the sea of amendments that were withdrawn or redirected to Article XI — the unfunded wish list of proposals — were several authored by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City.
Guillen, who switched parties last year, authored House Bill 7, which would create a Legislative Border Safety Oversight Committee. Guillen authored several contingency riders to fund the committee, which would also oversee a newly formed Border Protection Unit created under separate legislation by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler.
However, with Guillen's amendments withdrawn, here was little left to debate on the issue. But Democrats will get their chance to oppose the legislation later, as House Bill 7 and House Bill 20 are both scheduled to be heard next week in the House State Affairs Committee.
One border-related proposal was adopted early in the debate. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, successfully passed an amendment that would require state agencies to report to state leaders how the El Paso County District Attorney's office spent state grants to prosecute the gunman in the 2019 Walmart shooting. Moody said the amendment is necessary due to what he called the rampant corruption and incompetence in the office under former District Attorney Yvonne Rosales, who was forced to resign.
"The most important catalyst for removal was the botched handling of this case," Moody said. "However the money was spent, it's clear the people of El Paso have less than nothing to show for it since the case is not even close to trial-ready all these years later."