Texas senators are expected to debate two controversial pieces of legislation this week — the budget and concealed carry on campus.
The state House and Senate are looking for methods of easing the $15 billion to $27 billion budget deficit for the 2012-13 biennium. The House passed its version of the budget bill last month, which included major cuts to education and health care. Last week, the Senate Committee on Finance passed its version, which restores some of that funding.
The Senate’s proposed budget would cut UT’s funding by about $51 million and attempts to tap into the Rainy Day Fund, a $9.4 billion emergency fund lawmakers can use during financial crises.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a bill that would allow concealed-handgun license holders to carry on campus. The bill, which seemed likely to pass without much opposition at the beginning of the session, lost support after constituent pressure. Wentworth will try to give the concealed carry on campus issue new life through an amendment.
Senate on the State Budget
A week after the Senate Committee on Finance passed the budget bill, senators may soon begin to debate the 2012-13 biennial budget on the chamber floor.
The Senate budget bill, which totals $178.6 billion and would restore $12 million in funding for UT from the House version, was originally slated for debate Thursday, but the legislation did not have enough votes and was pushed back. Senators anticipate the bill will reach the floor today.
The proposed budget has drawn heat from both political parties, with some legislators opposing the use of $3 billion of the Rainy Day Fund. The disagreement over the fund is one of the main reasons the bill has stalled.
“While each of us could point to something in the budget we would change, I am comfortable with the method of finance for the budget,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a letter to senators last week.
Dewhurst said he prefers to use recurring nontax revenue, such as economic growth, to balance the budget instead of using the Rainy Day Fund.
On Friday, lawmakers approved Sen. Robert Duncan’s, R-Lubbock, fiscal matters bill, which would add $4.1 billion from existing tax revenue to help ease next biennium’s budget deficit.
The budget bill’s author and chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said members have been divided on the use of the Rainy Day Fund.
“If we’re not going to use the Rainy Day Fund when it’s raining, we might as well get rid of it,” Ogden said.
Concealed Carry on Campus
Senators are likely to take up the concealed carry on campus debate this week after Wentworth lost support for his original bill, which left the issue looking dead. Senators had also proposed amendments to allow public universities to opt out of the requirement as well as an amendment to leave the decision up to regents, both of which were not accepted and resulted in lost votes.
Last week, Wentworth surprised senators when he proposed an amendment to allow concealed carry on campus during debate for the higher education bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Zaffirini’s bill would reduce reporting requirements for higher education institutions and in turn translate into lower tuition fees.
“That was the first bill I saw this [amendment] would be eligible for,” Wentworth said. “I have 20 votes to suspend the vote for freestanding, but you only need 16 votes for an amendment.”
Wentworth said the move was a “routine parliamentary tactic used by members all the time.”
Concealed carry on campus has generated heated opinions throughout the legislative session. Supporters said the measure would allow for personal protection, while opposers said it could make campuses more dangerous.
Zaffirini accepted six prior amendments to the higher education bill but pulled it down after Wentworth brought his final amendment forward.
The San Antonio Republican may be left searching for another option to pass concealed carry because Zaffirini said she is likely to kill her bill.
“If he is able to successfully pass his amendment, I will have to kill the [higher education] bill,” Zaffirini said. “It is unfortunate that it might happen because the [higher education] bill could help save universities millions of dollars. We will have to see what he does.”