House discusses proposed $210 billion state budget

Eleanor Dearman

The Texas House of Representatives started its discussion Tuesday of an approximately $210 billion budget.

At print time, the discussion over HB 1, which lays out the House’s proposed state budget, was over eight hours long, and legislators had discussed roughly 100 of the more than 350 filed amendments. The House had not yet reached a discussion on article three, containing higher education budget information.

Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), appropriations chair, said he and the subcommittee chairs reviewed every amendment in preparation for the floor discussion.

“There are amendments, obviously, that we will oppose, and we will state why we oppose them [or] move to table,” Otto said. “There are amendments here we will accept. There are amendments here where we will tell members we’re going to let the will of the House speak.”

At the bill’s second reading, legislators discussed public education, border security, the wage gap and abstinence education, among other topics.

The discussion started with debate over a public education amendment that Otto filed. The amendment, which ultimately passed, would give public schools $800 million in funding, contingent on the passage of HB 1759.

HB 1759 would disperse state funding for public school maintenance, operations and debt.

Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) filed an amendment, which did not pass, to study and report data on the gender wage gap in Texas.

“Women in Texas continue to face wage inequality,” González said. “Don’t you believe that your daughters, your wives, your grandchildren should all be paid equally?”

According to journalism assistant professor Mary Bock, the gender pay gap is a result of factors such as women working fewer hours to care for children, or traditionally female jobs paying less than traditionally male jobs.

“It is such a complicated issue, that a study might help us get a handle on what’s going on in Texas specifically,” Bock said. 

González filed another amendment, which would increase funding for colonias, housing communities generally located on the border, by about $345,000. The funds would be moved from the Department of Public Safety budget, which receives more than $565 million in the current proposal, an almost $94 million increase form the current budget. This amendment also failed.

About seven hours into the reading, legislators began a discussion on abstinence funding in the state. Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) proposed an amendment that would transfer $2.5 million from funds dedicated to HIV and STD prevention to an abstinence education program. At the reading, Spitzer said abstinence is the only way to guarantee safe sex and HIV prevention.

The conversation got personal when Spitzer told his fellow representatives he was abstinent until marriage.

“[My parents] established that in me, and I hope to establish that in other children, so they can do the same thing,” Spitzer said.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington), who opposed the bill, said it was a mistake to take money from funds working to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

“I think abstinence is a valid program, but money to STD and HIV are equally valid as well,” Turner said.

The amendment passed 97–47.