Budget for 2016-17 Biennium Approved by State Legislature—Missed Opportunity

With three days to spare before the current legislative session ends June 1, the Texas House and Senate gave final approval Friday to the state budget for 2016-17. This two-year budget bill, HB 1, is really the only must-pass bill of the session, and it also is perhaps the most revealing of legislative priorities.

Judging by this budget, the top priorities this session plainly were tax cuts and transportation funding. Nearly $4 billion for 2016-17 will be devoted to cuts in property and business taxes, and additional tax cuts are still in play as the final weekend of the session begins. These cuts will be ongoing and growing in future years, as will the billions of dollars a year earmarked for transportation spending in HB 1 and related legislation.

The legislature chose not to use the state’s robust revenue to make up for years of underfunding of education. Though formula funding for school districts will rise by $1.5 billion above enrollment growth, that’s not even enough to keep up with inflation, let alone make up for the erosion of school funding since it peaked in 2008 before the Great Recession. It is estimated that it would take another $5 billion to get our schools back to their 2008 average funding level, in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.

The missed opportunities to meet neglected needs and the ongoing loss of revenue to tax cuts led a significant number of House members to speak against and vote against the budget, which passed 115 to 33. It was especially remarkable to see 7 of the 11 Democrats on the budget-writing committee vote against the final budget, led by committee vice-chair Sylvester Turner of Houston. (The Senate vote was 30 to 1, with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, casting the lone dissenting vote.)

Upcoming Hotlines will report on specific budget items and spell out some of the long-term consequences of the budget decisions made today.

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