orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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March 20, 2013

Texas Senate passes $195.5B two-year budget plan

(Continued)

AUSTIN, Texas —

Davis' eleventh-hour filibuster during the 2011 session to temporarily postpone the classroom spending cuts elevated her star power among Democrats — and she was again the loudest voice of dissent in the chamber on Wednesday.

"The budget product was artificially strained from the start," Davis said. "I can't ignore the alternatives that were available to us."

Yet aside from Davis' floor speech, the Senate budget bill passed with little drama. Retired teachers in red shirts packed the gallery when the Senate began but stuck around only long enough for a resolution honoring their members. They filed out before the chamber began considering the budget bill in which public education funding remains the most divisive issue.

Other Democrats conveyed optimism that more money would eventually be spent but did not launch into any pointed attacks. With the 140-day session now more than halfway finished, Democrats instead praised the openness of budget negotiations so far, unlike the acrimony and tense exchanges that often shadowed spending discussions two years ago.

The Senate budget uses $94.1 billion in general revenue and carries a total price tag of the $195.5 billion over two years. General revenue is mostly stockpiled through state sales taxes, and is the pot of money that lawmakers wield most control over how to spend when writing the budget.

A rejuvenated Texas economy handed lawmakers a record $101.1 billion in revenue to potentially spend when the Legislature convened in January. About $6.6 billion of that was already spent earlier this month in an emergency bill to cover a Medicaid shortfall, and there is $269 million in other estimated expenses in the current budget that lawmakers must also set aside.

That leaves about $410 million remaining, and Williams said that number is likely to increase after the comptroller revises revenue projections next month.

Including federal dollars, the budget passed by the Senate is $8.6 billion more than the base draft released in January.

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