DALLAS — The Texas Senate approved a two-year state budget Wednesday on a straight 19-12 party-line vote after Republican leaders outflanked Democratic opposition to considering the $176.5 billion spending plan.
Passage sends HB 1 to a conference committee of five senators and five representatives that will reconcile the Senate measure with the House-approved $164.5 billion budget bill for the fiscal 2012-13 biennium.
All 12 Democrats in the Senate voted against the bill, with all 19 Republicans in favor.
The Senate budget developed by the Finance Committee had been held up since the panel adopted it late last week over a provision that would have allowed the state comptroller to draw up to $3 billion from the $9.3 billion rainy-day fund if revenues were not sufficient to fund appropriations.
However, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, removed the rainy-day option on Tuesday after several GOP senators said they would not support the reliance on unexpected revenue increases. Democrats refused to bring the bill up for debate without the rainy-day spending option.
The Senate traditionally requires 21 of the 31 senators to agree to bring a bill up for debate, which allowed the Democratic minority to stymie Ogden’s efforts to bring the budget to the floor.
Senate leadership broke the deadlock by placing the House bill on Wednesday’s calendar, which then required only a simple majority to bring up.
Ogden said he knew from the beginning of the legislative process that it would be a hard budget to vote for because of the cuts to public education and social services.
“The politically safe vote for a lot of members was to vote no,” Ogden said. “It is a courageous thing to vote for this budget.”
Both budget proposals would cut appropriations for every state agency. Spending would be $23 billion less than current expenditures in the House version and $11 billion less in the Senate’s proposal.
The current two-year budget totals $187.5 billion.
The House bill reduces the current $76.4 billion in state aid to local education by $6.7 billion, while the Senate version lowers it by $712 million.
Health care spending, which is currently $65.5 billion, is cut by $11.5 billion in the House bill and by $7.8 billion in the Senate plan.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said the proposed budget relies too much on spending cuts to match revenue with expenditures. He called instead for a combination of smaller spending cuts, more revenue increases, and closing of some tax exemptions.
“You cannot take $11 billion out of current government operations without a lot of pain and misery,” Whitmire said.
Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate passed “a good budget.”
“I’d like to have all the Democrats with us, but the people of Texas want a budget done,” he said. “Some of our colleagues wanted more money than we could afford to put into the budget.”
Dewhurst said state revenues should be higher than currently expected as the economy strengthens.
“Our revenues are up almost 11% for the first 9 months of [fiscal] 2011, approximately $2.5 billion” Dewhurst said. “So our economy is rebounding. Let’s not do anything that slows that rebound.”
Republican Gov. Rick Perry praised the Senate for adopting the proposed budget. Perry has vowed to veto bills that would balance the budget through tax increases or the rainy day fund.
“I look forward to signing a fiscally responsible, no-new-taxes state budget in the next few weeks that funds Texas schools, border security, and health care priorities, while protecting Texas job creation and preserving the remaining balance in the state’s rainy-day fund for future emergencies,” he said.