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Texas House, Senate to Iron Out Budget Differences

Muliadi Soenaryo via Texas Tribune

Texas lawmakers in the House and Senate will soon begin working out differences between their budgets. 

The longest and probably most heated debate over the budget happened last Thursday. That’s when the House passed its amended version of the state spending plan for the next two years.

Every session, House and Senate members disagree on how much to spend and which line item should get how much funding. Kate Alexander said this session will be no different.

She covers the budget for the Austin American Statesman. This year, she added, House and Senate lawmakers will find the most differences in how much to set aside for one item.

"Public ed, without question," Alexander said. "They’re in the middle of litigation right now on whether they’re adequately funding public schools. They’re making a major step towards restoring those cuts is an important move. It says an important message -- that they are trying to give back."

The House voted to put $2.5 billion back into the public school spending -- the Senate voted for a billion dollars less.

In the House, a surprisingly vigorous debate developed over school vouchers – lawmakers voted for an amendment to stop state money going to parents to send their kids to private schools.  The Senate budget didn’t address vouchers at all, although a voucher bill is still making its way through the chamber.

Jim Henson is the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He says vouchers will come up as both houses try to hammer out a final budget.  

"I think it’s long been a plank of conservative thinking that public institutions are failing and the solution to that is to provide parents with more choice and that private schools are a market based alternative," Henson said.

Henson predicts that Senators and House delegates in the conference committee could eventually agree on a pilot program. But not before they tackle a couple of other big differences.

"I think the next two big things coming up is Medicaid waiver and water," he said. "There seems to be agreement in principle on the water plan, where money is going to come from and how much remains to be pounded out."

House members voted against an amendment that would push for talks with the Obama administration on expanding Medicaid eligibility on Thursday, but experts say the Senate hasn’t ruled Medicaid out, yet.