DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the Legislature into a 30-day special session that began Tuesday after a Democratic filibuster killed a combination revenue bill and school funding reform measure aimed at balancing the two-year state budget that was agreed to over the weekend.
The 140-day regular session expired Monday. Lawmakers on Saturday passed a $172 billion budget for fiscal 2012-13. The spending plan totals $15 billion less than the current budget.
Unfinished business needed to balance the proposed budget includes SB 1811, which would generate $3.5 billion in non-tax revenue in part by delaying a $2 billion school payment until fiscal 2014-2015.
The bill includes the educational funding formula reform. The plan allocates $37 billion to local public education over the next two years, $4 billion less than the state’s 1,030 school districts would receive under the current funding formula.
The school funding proposal in SB 1811 as adopted by the House called for an across-the-board 3.3% cut in state aid to all districts in the first year, with targeted reductions in the second year that would average about 5.6%. Cuts in the first year were softened with the release of $832 million of federal funds that had been held up for almost a year over a dispute on future school funding levels.
The House approved the school funding measures on Saturday, but Sunday’s 75-minute filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, prevented the Senate from acting on the bill.
Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to have the school funding reform considered by the Senate on Memorial Day, but could not obtain the four-fifths majority needed to suspend the rules.
Without a revision in the formula that distributes the funds, the state aid would run out in early 2013, several months before the end of the budget cycle but after the 83rd Legislature would convene in January 2013. The measure is written so that without the changes in the formula, Texas would be unable to distribute any aid to local districts when the next biennium begins Sept. 1.
Perry opened up the special session to also consider cost reductions for the state-operated Medicaid program. He could add other measures that failed to gain traction in the regular session.
Dewhurst said that during the special session he would suspend the rule that requires a two-thirds vote in the 31-member Senate to consider new legislation. The Democrats hold a minority 12 seats in the chamber, but that is sufficient to stop legislation from coming to the floor.
During the special session, the lieutenant governor said, consideration would require only a majority vote.
“Given that a small number of Senate Democrats have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus, I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session.” Dewhurst said in a letter to his fellow Republican Perry on Monday.
Democrats in the Legislature said they would use the special session to try to pry billions of dollars from the state’s $6.5 billion rainy-day fund. Lawmakers took $3.2 billion from the emergency fund to help balance the 2011-12 budget, but the House adamantly refused to tap it to reduce the cuts in the next two-year budget despite proposals from the Senate.
Dewhurst said it was unlikely that additional funds could be found for public education.
“If there is something we could do to tweak it, I am always open to improve things,” he said. “But this represents the most funding we’re going to get for public education. We have maxed out on our capability to fund schools. In a special session, numbers don’t go up. They go down.”
A second special session is expected for July to overhaul the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association after efforts failed in the regular session. Perry said the reforms must be in place before the coming hurricane season.