On May 29th, another 140-day term of the Texas Legislature came to an end. Working with less revenue, with shortfalls forecasted by the Texas Comptroller due to the economic downturn in oil and gas prices, the Legislature nonetheless put together another two-year state budget. The final version passed the House with the support of 135 members (with 14 Democrats voting against it).
Importantly, Texas law requires a balanced budget. Additionally, this 2018/2019 budget keeps state spending increases under population growth plus inflation, staying well below all constitutional spending limits. While many spending decisions were tough and arguably some good programs and vital government roles did not receive the level of funding some prefer, we were able to provide meaningful solutions to some of Texas’ most pressing challenges while investing in our highest priorities. Here are just a few of the highlights of the new state budget:
In January, Governor Abbott made improving Child Protective Services and Texas’ foster care program a top priority for this Legislature. To that end, we added $508 million in the budget for child protection. This includes funds to hire almost 600 new CPS caseworkers, to enhance foster care provider rates, and to provide additional support for families who take in abused children (also known as kinship care).
Last year, I served on the House Select Committee on Mental Health in order to take a comprehensive view of how to improve the state’s behavioral health system for children and adults. The committee’s findings helped shape this year’s mental health budget priorities. We allocated $300 million for new construction, significant repairs and increased capacity at state mental health hospitals. We also appropriated $62.7 million to eliminate waiting lists for community mental health services for adults and children, and we earmarked $37.5 million for a new mental health jail diversion program.
The budget continues to fund our public education system at current levels and accounts for growth in enrollment with an additional $2.65 billion in funding. $1.6 billion was earmarked for pre-kindergarten funding, with $236 million going to districts implementing high-quality pre-kindergarten. This was another of Governor Abbott’s priority measures. We also provided a backstop for districts who are experiencing rapid decreases in their property values, as well as funding to bring high-speed broadband to public schools and libraries.
Border Security and Public Safety
In 2015, we added $840 million to the budget for border security. This year, we allocated funds to hire 250 new state troopers to expand operations along the Texas-Mexico border. Additionally, we earmarked $25 million in the budget for protective vests for law enforcement officials across the state.
This year was one of the most productive pro-life sessions in memory where we strengthened the ban on public funding to Planned Parenthood to perform abortions. We also added $18.3 million to the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, a network of adoption agencies, crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and others around the state who serve pregnant women in need. Moreover, the budget authorizes Health and Human Services to spend up to $20 million additional dollars once the $18.3 is allocated in order to expand service into rural areas and increase the number of providers in the network.
$350 million in the budget is dedicated to increasing the contribution rate and addressing the shortfall in TRS-Care, the health care program for retired teachers. Had no added funding occurred, retired teachers would have seen their premiums and deductibles go up dramatically.
Even in a time of tightened revenues, this is one of the most conservative, fiscally responsible budgets in Texas history, and it’s the second consecutive conservative budget that I have been a part of crafting. I believe it’s positive proof that our state can keep taxes and spending low, while at the same time meeting the basic needs of our fellow Texans.
As always, it is an honor to represent you in the Texas House of Representatives, and I welcome your comments and opinions. Please visit my website or contact our District Office in Kerrville (715 Water St.) at 830-257-0432 and let me hear from you.
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