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Texas Lawmakers Begin to Iron Out Differences on Spending Bill

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Both Republicans and Democrats in the Texas House have expressed concern over the version of the supplemental spending bill that came out of the Senate on Wednesday. 

The contentious measure is House Bill 1025. Among its provisions, it appropriates roughly $4 billion for expenses from the rainy day fund, a pot of money that conservatives would prefer not to tap as much. It's considered the state's savings account, generated mostly from oil and gas tax revenues.

"You hear that from a lot of the Republicans," said Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who was on the House Appropriations Committee. 

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, told House members today it was vital to vote in favor of speeding up the process of appointing a conference committee to discuss differences with the Senate. That's because the Senate has a rule that conference committee reports must be in by this midnight if they deal with financial matters, he said. "This is a general appropriations bill – the conference committee has to have their job completed, their conference committee report signed, by midnight tonight," he explained.

Earlier today, Gov. Rick Perry visited the House to take part in memorial resolutions. Members of the media rushed after him to ask budget-related questions, but he did not make time for any comments.

When the Senate passed its version on Wednesday night, it voted to tie $200,000 for public schools in HB 1025 to passage of House Bill 7. That bill would rebate money to all electricity customers using a fund that’s supposed to only help poor families pay their utility bills. 

That angered State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who said yesterday he would not be "held hostage" by the "games" of the Senate. But today he was more optimistic. 

"Communication is important. Even if you’re disagreeing, that’s a part of the legislative process," Rep. Turner said. "You continue to see if you can reach a positive solution. That’s what people sent us here for."

HB 1025 spends money over the next three years. Some of it is to cover expenses left over this biennium, the rest for 2014-2015. Among its provisions, it appropriates about $2 billion for two water accounts set up by SJR 1 to finance the state's water plans. 

Lawmakers are awaiting the conference report.