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Senate Finance Panel Starts Tackling Texas Budget

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT
Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee began tackling the 2016-2017 Texas budget at the State Capitol on Feb. 2, 2015.

Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee have begun meeting regularly to work on the state budget for the next two fiscal years.

Texas has an estimated $7.5 billion left over from the current two-year budget cycle, which gives lawmakers more money to work with as they plan state spending for the 2016-2017 budget.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, says she’s willing to talk about options for that extra money, including paying down state debt.

"We are blessed to be living in a time when our economy has done really well," Nelson says. "We’ve got some extra money we can add to it, some things we want to do. We can pay down debt, we can do a lot of things."

Tom Currah, chief revenue estimator with the Texas comptroller’s office, says after $5 billion goes to the Rainy Day Fund and the state highway fund, the state will have roughly $113 billion dollars available for general purpose spending. Currah, however, expects growth will slow down.

"We’ve been growing very strongly in recent years, and we expect that to moderate quite a bit as a result largely in the recent decline in oil prices," he says.

Lawmakers on the budget committee also heard about funding for the Public Integrity Unit, the part of the Travis County district attorney’s office that investigates state corruption. The PIU is at the center of a criminal case involving former Gov. Rick Perry, alleging he abused his powers when he threatened to veto funding for the unit. The Senate budget bill doesn’t have funding for the unit, at least for now.

"We’ve got a long session to discuss and talk about where the function should be placed and at what level should be funded," Nelson said.

One Republican lawmaker has filed a bill that would move the unit to the Texas attorney general’s office.

The committee will host public hearings, going through the budget piece by piece, for most of this month.

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