PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Opinion

May 21, 2013

Budget deal reached; finish line in sight

AUSTIN — We reached tentative agreement on a new budget over the weekend and now are trying to line up all the dominoes to fall in the right order so we can end the legislative session on Monday.

It took some time for House members to decide what they wanted before we could close out the budget, which is a strong conservative budget. We are living within our means while funding our priorities.  I don't know how any member of the House or Senate could vote against this budget, which restores about $4 billion worth of public education funding.

The budget — Senate Bill 1 — hinges on passage of SJR 1 and House Bill 1025 — the supplemental budget — and also on us providing $631 million worth of utility fee rebates to ERCOT electric customers in Texas.

SJR 1 involves the proposed constitutional amendment creating the state water fund, which voters would be asked to approve in the November election. The actual $2 billion appropriation for the fund would come in HB 1025 — the supplemental budget bill — and the state's Rainy Day Fund would be tapped for the money.

As the author of SJR 1, I consider it imperative to constitutionally dedicate the water infrastructure funds and to keep the funds inside our state treasury. Voters will decide if we amend the Texas Constitution in the November election. Doing so will guarantee the money can only be spent for its intended purpose - on water projects.

Future lawmakers will not be able to use the money for anything else but water — IF the funds are constitutionally dedicated.

It's equally important that the water fund stay inside the treasury.  Sometimes bad things happen to good ideas. We saw that recently with serious problems inside the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).  Legislators and state leaders were able to act immediately. We suspended funding of the program and are about to enact reforms to put the program back on track. We were able to act as swiftly as we did because the CPRIT money remains inside the treasury, where we have easy access. If the money had been outside the treasury (as is the case of the mid-1990s tobacco settlement), we would have to pass legislation to bring the water fund back inside the treasury. It can take a long time to pass and implement legislation.

That's why I'm insisting the $2 billion water fund be constitutionally dedicated and kept inside the Texas Treasury.

Getting all these dominoes in the right order is complicated. We have an agreement on the pieces and the amount of money. We just have to get the dominoes lined up right now. I believe it's going to work out, and we'll get it done.

I am still trying to reach agreement with the House in the coming days to put more money in the budget for transportation. I'll provide you a report next week. I've been reminding you how vital it is that we develop a robust funding source for transportation. As it stands now, we would run out of money for new highway construction after FY15 - and we can't allow that to happen.

The next few days in the Capitol will stay hectic. Wednesday is the final day for the Senate to pass out bills. Friday is the deadline to submit conference committee reports, and Sunday is the final day to approve legislation. The only action we can take on Monday, the final day of the session, is to make corrections in legislation.

Senator Williams represents Senate District 4 covering all or portions of Montgomery, Chambers, Harris, Jefferson and Galveston Counties, and serves as Chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee and is a member of the Senate State Affairs, Open Government and Administration Committees.

 

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