Hammering Out a Deal: Lawmakers Try to Agree on Funding

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

The Texas Legislature has reached agreement on public school funding but is still hammering out a deal on higher education.

Marathon talks throughout Thursday included leading members of the House and Senate. The House had proposed cutting $7.8 billion, but in the end they agreed on the Senate version which only cuts $4 billion from public schools.

The only matter that remains is higher education. Earlier, Governor Rick Perry had recommended cutting $1 billion from higher education in order to better fund public schools, a senator said.

The Senator, who is close to the state budget negotiations but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Perry's plan was initially rejected by Senate negotiators.

Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, however, struck a more hopeful tone.

Senators have "been offered, I think, a reasonable position and I think ... we should have an answer, hopefully, there'll be white smoke coming out of the chimney and we can get our work done and go home."

Lawmakers have been working to craft a compromise on the budget for 2012-2013 with a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall. So far, negotiators have agreed on the majority of the budget, but have deadlocked over education spending. The primary sticking point is over how much to spend on basic school operations, as well as how that money should be distributed to school districts. With 11 days left in the legislative session, they're running out of time to avoid a special session.

The Senate proposal would have spent $3.8 billion more than the House on public schools. Taking money from the higher education budget could help bridge that gap.

When asked about Perry's offer, the Senate's top budget negotiator, Sen. Steve Ogden, said "I'm defending the Senate budget."

Conservatives in the House have resisted spending more money.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, chair of the Senate Public Education Committee, said while any final spending plan is up to negotiators, she also believes the Senate is standing firm on its education spending.

That was in stark contrast to Dewhurst's assessment a few moments earlier.

"I'm a few minutes away from having things in place to try and have an agreement between the parties," Dewhurst said, upon emerging from a closed-door meeting with Republican senators. "It's moving in the right direction based on what I believe the House wants and needs, the governor wants and needs and what the Senate wants and needs."

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