AUSTIN -- With Senate and House conferees still trying to work out a compromise on the state budget, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said Tuesday that he believes the Legislature can reach a final agreement before session ends in less than two weeks.
"I'm very optimistic that we are going to get our budget passed, agreed to and not have to go into a special session," he said.
He called on the House to pass a public school finance bill as well as SB 1811. That bill is a fiscal matters bill passed through the Senate that uses deferrals and tax collection speedups to achieve $3 billion in additional revenue, needed to balance the additional appropriations made toward education in the Senate budget.
House and Senate negotiators agree on most budget provisions, but still remain billions apart on funding for public and higher education. At a meeting of the budget conference committee on Monday, the conferees voted on final appropriations for nearly every budget article, except for education.
On Tuesday, Comptroller Susan Combs revised her budget estimate, the number against which budget writers must balance spending, upwards by $1.2 billion. The new money comes from growth in sales tax collections, and Dewhurst said the additional money could help the House and Senate come to agreement.
In planning the budget, he said, the House and Senate both anticipated an increase in the revenue estimate by $700 million. The extra $500 million over expectations could go to reduce the price tag of SB 1811, a measure which has given some House members pause and kept the bill from coming before the body.
Dewhurst said that the education appropriations in the Senate version of the budget meet the bare minimum standards that Education Commissioner Robert Scott laid out before the Senate Finance Committee. He added that the Senate plan would eliminate the need for local officials to seek to raise school property taxes to meet spending needs for the next biennium.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate approved new lines for state Senate Districts. Redistricting comes every 10 years, as new census data shows how population has shifted over the previous decade. Texas was the fastest growing state over the past 10 years, increasing population by nearly 5 million. This increased the size of each of the 31 Senate districts, from about 672,000 citizens per district to 811,000.
The bill will now head to the House for consideration, but by tradition, the House and Senate do not alter the maps drawn by their opposite chamber.