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State budget leaders adopt some spending plans for 2024-25 but still no compromise on property taxes, power plants

By Karen Brooks Harper, The Texas Tribune

State budget leaders adopt some spending plans for 2024-25 but still no compromise on property taxes, power plants” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas House and Senate negotiators on Monday adopted several state spending priorities, including funding more than $1 billion for state parks and shoring up the governor’s disaster fund, as they inched toward compromise on a two-year budget proposal likely to top $300 billion.

But with two weeks to go before the legislative session adjourns, chief budget writers still have not announced compromises on some of the largest fights and issues facing the Texas Legislature this session: property tax cuts, stabilizing the power grid, broadband expansion, water infrastructure projects, school funding and whether to pay for a private school voucher program, among others.

Monday’s vote was the first public look at where the conference committee of five senators and five representatives — two Democrats and eight Republicans — are headed after weeks of high-stakes, closed-door negotiations marked by political wedge issues and philosophical differences that must be hammered out into a compromise.

But it does not yet offer a complete picture of what lawmakers will end up voting on. There are still several bills with funding reserved in the proposal but that have yet to pass both chambers — such as the border funding bill.

House Bill 1, the vehicle for the 2024-25 budget bill, still has several legislative hurdles to clear before the bill can land on the governor’s desk.

The conference committee, led by Senate Finance Chair Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and House Appropriations Chair Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, has less than two weeks to kick out a full compromise.

A final version of the House-Senate compromise will be voted out after more negotiations are carried out in nonpublic meetings. That version will be put before the House and Senate for a vote, with very little chance for further change before it’s sent to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Passing a balanced budget agreed upon by both full chambers is the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to do each legislative session. This year’s session adjourns on May 29.

In their separate proposals going into the negotiations, the House sought to spend $136.9 billion in state tax revenue while the Senate went with $141.2 billion.

Neither chamber’s proposal spends the entirety of the $32.7 billion surplus, made possible by a record amount of sales tax and oil and gas taxes collected from Texans for the past two years. Neither of those proposals bust constitutional spending limits, budget leaders said.

The two chambers are also navigating differences on an emergency spending bill, Senate Bill 30, to bump up funding during the current budget cycle for mental health needs, cost-of-living pension increases for retired teachers, state employee pay raises, school safety measures, flood mitigation projects and the Texas Semiconductor Innovation Fund, as well as other projects, before the cycle ends in September.

One sticking point on that bill is a Senate commitment to direct $3.9 billion to pay off some of the costs pushed onto customers because of high prices for gas or electricity.

Closer to agreement

Monday’s vote resolved many of the differences that separated the House and Senate proposals, both of which won overwhelming approval in their respective chambers in April, and included several new proposals.

Conferees adopted a proposal adding $1.5 billion for state parks, including half a billion for a fund to purchase more land for those parks. Legislation supporting that program has passed both chambers.

They agreed to raise the pay of community attendants for Medicaid recipients to $10.60 per hour and spend $140 million on the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, plus promised to put nearly $20 million toward the construction and maintenance of a “mental health continuum of care” center in the Uvalde region.

And they added language opposed by Democrats that bans the funding of diversity, equity and inclusion hiring practices and programs at universities.

Kate McGee, Brian Lopez, Jolie McCullough and Joshua Fechter contributed to this report.

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