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House and Senate in Standoff Over Budget Deals

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It’s been hailed as the kumbaya session till now, but personal tussles and a major budget standoff between the chambers are rocking the 83rd Legislature in its final days.

All Wednesday, the House and Senate each held major budget bills hostage that need to pass. Senators are holding off on the local calendar to avoid voting on the supplemental budget measure House Bill 1025 until the House votes on Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would send voters a constitutional amendment to create a State Water Implementation Fund and State Implementation Revenue Fund. The House put off SJR 1 for days to see if the Senate will approve $200 million for schools during the HB 1025 vote. The Senate is also waiting for the House before it takes up HB 1025, as the clock ticks for bills to pass in either chamber.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday afternoon that Senate Finance Chair Tommy Williams wouldn’t hold HB 1025 captive any longer, but lawmakers still have yet to see whether it includes the money for schools.

Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) spent this morning heatedly blocking all bills by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) on the local calendar, because he disrespected the unincorporated parts of Harris County, she said. Riddle’s stand prompted representatives to run across the Capitol to negotiate with senators. The web of members embroiled in cross-chamber spats thickened, but the fight fizzled out as quickly as they’d appeared.

The House finished the major business on the local calendar and is currently catching up on yesterday’s supplemental calendar before they get to today’s, which includes SJR 1. Whether HB 1025 will include the $200 million for schools is still up in the air and at this point it’s a waiting game to see which chamber will budge first. On top of it all, Senate Bill 1—the state budget, and the only legislation members must pass all session—is still in conference committee.

Though most anything seems calm compared to the 2011 cuts, the next few hours could make or break this session’s legacy as a smooth operation.

As the afternoon moved on, the House began working through the Senate bills it had delayed, Williams began passing out paper copies of a new version of HB 1025, and the House prepared to take up SJR 1. We’ll update with more as the negotiations unfold.

Update at 8:15: The Senate is in the middle of debate over HB 1025. Democrats Royce West and Wendy Davis congratulated Williams on his work on education funding in particular. Williams said the basic allotment per-student would be the highest ever in Texas under this budget, reaching $5,040 in 2015.

“Hopefully we can stay on this particular glide path,” West told him.

As Williams explained how the bill would round out the state’s budget, he said his only disappointment was that highway funding is “the one thing we’re falling short on.” —Patrick Michels

Update at 8:30: HB 1025 passed the Senate on a 29-2 vote. “We have an Amber Alert out for SJR 1 right now,” Williams joked after the vote. “So with that, I’m going to ask that we stop right now and see if we have any phone calls or anything where we can get that thing moving.” —Patrick Michels

Update at 8:32: In the House, following a tearful farewell from Galveston Democrat Craig Eiland announcing his retirement, lawmakers have taken up SJR 1.

Lawmakers just shot down an amendment from Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), which would have capped the state’s contribution to the on $2 billion on contributions from the Rainy Day Fund to the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas. That’s the new fund SJR1 would ask voters to approve creating.

That’s the amount the Senate just voted to devote to the state water plan this biennium, and lawmakers argued Perry’s amendment operates under assumption that “nothing is going to change” in the state’s water needs. —Emily Mathis

Update at 10:14: The House overwhelmingly passed SJR 1 after a few tough debates about spending. Read more about it here.