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Texas House debates budget that would restore some cuts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 4 Apr 2013 17:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas, April 4 (Reuters) - The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday began debating a two-year budget proposal that would increase state spending by about 7 percent and restore some of the cuts made to public education in 2011.

Two years after lawmakers passed a spending plan that made deep cuts in the face of a budget shortfall, the state's financial health and robust economic growth have allowed budget writers to add back a significant amount of that money, House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts told his colleagues.

"We have not done so recklessly and we have not replaced every dollar that was removed during last session," said Pitts, a Republican.

Pitts said the proposed budget "will preserve the state's fiscal stability and economic prosperity while protecting the citizens of Texas through vital services and programs."

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs projected earlier this year the Legislature would have ${esc.dollar}101.4 billion available to spend, thanks to higher-than-expected tax collections boosted by economic growth. That included ${esc.dollar}8.8 billion expected to remain at the end of the current budget cycle.

The House budget proposal for 2014-2015 includes ${esc.dollar}93.5 billion in state spending, a 7 percent increase over the previous two-year period. The total proposed House budget, including federal funds, is ${esc.dollar}193.8 billion, a 2.1 percent increase.

The proposal includes an additional ${esc.dollar}2.5 billion for schools, two years after ${esc.dollar}4 billion was cut from education.

"In fact, ${esc.dollar}2.5 billion is a huge chunk of money to restore what was cut - not where we wanted to be, a lot of us, but it did restore," state Representative Donna Howard, a Democratic member of the appropriations panel, said during the debate.

The Senate in March passed a budget proposal that includes about ${esc.dollar}1 billion less for schools than the House proposal. The Senate's proposal would spend ${esc.dollar}94.1 billion in state funds and ${esc.dollar}195.5 billion total. Both chambers have Republican majorities.

Like the Senate budget, the House budget increases spending on mental health programs.

The House is expected to debate the budget late into Thursday night. After the House approves a spending plan, the two chambers will have to reconcile the differences in their proposals. (Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Eric Beech)

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