AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House unanimously approved its $251 billion state budget Thursday morning just after midnight. The plan now goes to the Senate.
The budget discussion lasted late into the night as lawmakers considered hundreds of amendments to House Bill 1, mostly concerning how to spend $116.5 billion in state general revenue, which makes up the largest portion of the budget.
“You can’t establish policy within the budget, but you can tell a lot by what’s in there what our priorities are,” explained Appropriations chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond). “And $9 billion of that is dedicated to property tax relief and really a transformative change in the foundation schools program is an incredible statement of where the priorities are for this Legislature and for the state ultimately.”
The House Ways and Means Committee also advanced one of those priorities early Thursday morning — House Bill 2, a property tax bill that would restrict how much money cities and counties can tax property owners.
“I have said that I believe that this particular session is going to be one that is really going to be transformative for generations to come,” Zerwas said.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) agreed.
“[The budget] is the first step in the House’s effort to reduce property taxes and to prolifically change school finance, increase the state’s share of funding for public education,” Bonnen said.
Although education, property tax reform, and health and human services make up the bulk of the budget, lawmakers filed 307 amendments on things that were priorities for them. State Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin), Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) and Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) filed the most amendments with 15, 13 and 12 respectively.
“Ready for a long day?” Conroe Republican Will Metcalf asked San Antonio Democrat Barbara Gervin-Hawkins before lawmakers gaveled in.
“I think we should get out of here in record time — if we are working together,” she replied.
The only constitutional requirement for lawmakers is to balance the budget.
In addition to school finance and property tax reform, changes supported by both major parties in both chambers, House Republicans emphasized public safety and other investments.
“We do the best we can with what we have, and we try to be very judicious about where those resources go and how they are allocated,” State Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) said.
“The Texas House has proposed a fiscally responsible budget that funds the services Texans need,” House Republican Caucus chair Dustin Burrows said.
Gov. Greg Abbott stopped by the House chamber Wednesday morning as budget discussions began. He also congratulated lawmakers overnight for advancing the bill to reform property taxes.
“Our goal right now is to ensure everything continues to move,” Abbott said, referring to the state’s education funding planning. “The good news: everything is moving.”
Meanwhile, House Democrats also prioritize healthcare and criminal justice reform and they oppose the further construction of a wall along the southern border as well as using public school dollars to fund private schools.
“The Texas Legislature comes together a lot to focus on real issues like education, and taking care of taxes,” State Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) said. “But there are of course social issues they do tear us apart.”
Among the amendments adopted by the House was a rider that pays for a study to be conducted by the Texas Department of State Health Services that assesses the vaccination coverage levels and vaccination compliance with any new and existing vaccination requirements of children enrolled at and attending a licensed child-care facility or registered family home.
State representatives adopted an amendment that would appropriate at least $2.7 billion of the proposed $9 billion school finance plan to go to reducing school property taxes.