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Cracking open the 'Rainy Day Fund'

A long weekend of debates on the state budget began Thursday morning.
Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News
A long weekend of debates on the state budget began Thursday morning.

Because Texas doesn’t have enough money to run the state for the rest of the fiscal year, legislators gave initial approval to HB 275 today, authorizing a $3.1 billion withdrawal from the so-called rainy day fund to help  pay for a more than $4 billion supplemental appropriation. That bill is also set for final passage on Friday.

Most of the debate Thursday actually focused on the 2012-2013 budget.  A budget Governor Rick Perry says can not use any of the rainy day fund to balance. Gov. Perry reached an agreement with the House and Senate earlier in the month to spend money on the 2010-2011 budget.

“HB 275 uses Rainy Day Fund to address the present shortfall, and not a dollar more,” said Pitts.

Democrats proposed a horde of amendments to try and increase the amount of the Rainy Day Fund to be dispersed and to finance the next biennium’s estimated $23 billion shortfall.

Rep. Eiland, a Democrat from Galveston, proposed an amendment to fund Medicaid at a level comparable to previous years.

Like most amendments today, it was tabled after debate.

Rep. Zerwas, a Republican and Chair of the Health and Human Services budget committee, said that additional assistance from the Rainy Day Fund isn’t necessary when it comes to funding state health care. According to Zerwas, the legislature always underfunds Medicaid with the expectation that the next legislative session will fill the gap.

The estimated $9.4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund has become the focus on most budget battes during the Texas legislature this session. Democrats see the fund as a way to finance education, health and human services, and state jobs that would otherwise receive deep cuts. Republicans want to protect as much of the fund as possible, saving it for continued economic struggles or future emergencies.

The House takes up the 2012-2013 budget Friday morning.  While that version doesn't spend any additional revenue, rainy day or otherwise, the Senate version of the bill spends about $10 billion more.

The main problem developing this session is the the Senate isn't likely to pass the bare-bones House budget that underfunds education and health care.  While House leaders say they don't have the votes to pass the Senate version which raises additional revenue to shrink those cuts.  Capitol watchers think that's a recipe for a special session to pass the budget this summer.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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