DALLAS — The Texas House’s chief budget writer warned his colleagues Thursday that funding for state aid to public education and Medicaid could run out before the end of the next two-year budget cycle.
Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said aid to local school districts would be exhausted by February 2013 unless more revenue is found or the allocation formula is revised to reflect the $7.8 billion of cuts to local education in the House budget bill.
“If we don’t do a school finance bill, we will run out of money,” Pitts said during debate on several proposals to increase non-tax revenues.
“That means the schools cannot operate,” he said. “The teachers will not be paid.”
Fiscal 2012-2013 will begin Sept. 1 and end on Aug. 31, 2013.
The situation is the same for Medicaid, Pitts said, which provides medical services for the poor and elderly.
The proposed program funding does not include $6 billion that’s needed to cover enrollment increases and cost growth, he said.
“The House bill only funds Medicaid through March 2013,” Pitts said. “It will stop funding to your nursing homes, your local doctors, and other providers of Medicaid.”
“We passed a very lean budget,” he added. “There’s a lot of holes in the budget that we need to fill.”
The House has adopted a $164.5 billion budget for fiscal 2012-2013. The Senate plan calls for $176.5 billion in spending, but $2 billion of that comes from delaying a scheduled payment to school districts. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
A 10-member conference committee is working to reconcile the two budget plans. Pitts said budget negotiators are looking at options, but many representatives are reluctant to approve additional spending.
“House members are asking, 'Where’s the credit card that the Senate has?’ ” Pitts said. “There’s no money. We’ve been in conference and we don’t see the money, either.”
Pitts delayed until July 11 consideration of a package of Senate-approved bills that would provide $6 billion of additional revenue through enhanced collection efforts and accounting moves.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Finance Committee, said senators would not accept the budget cuts in the current House proposal.
“If the House doesn’t show some more flexibility, we’re going to special session,” Ogden said. “There are not 16 votes in the [31-member] Senate to do what the House wants to do, under any scenario.”
The current 140-day session is set to end May 30. The Finance Committee on Thursday approved Odgen’s proposal to take $3.97 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund to cover a $4.3 billion revenue shortfall in fiscal 2011.
The House in March approved a $3.1 billion drawdown measure, with the reluctant assent of Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Ogden said the additional draw would free $900 million for the next budget cycle.
The official estimate for the next two years calls for $77.6 billion of general fund revenue, but Comptroller Susan Combs is expected to raise that by as much as $1 billion due to better-than-expected collections recently.
Pitts said if more revenue is available, the House would support using less money from the rainy-day fund to balance the current budget rather than using the windfall to boost spending next year.