Senate Votes to Tap Rainy Day Fund

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Just as the Senate was set to adjourn today, chief budget writer Steve Ogden appeared on the floor with a bill to use $3.97 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to plug the budget hole for the current 2010-2011 biennium.

“It’s more than important, it’s essential.” Sen. Ogden, R-Bryan, said of the bill. The state must either cut more spending or use the rainy day fund, he explained. “If we don’t’ do that we could default on our short term borrowing.”

Originally HB 275 allocated $3.1 billion of the state’s emergency fund to cover the current $4 billion budget deficit. The reworked bill proposed by Ogden would use $800 million more of the state’s emergency funds than originally approved by the House, and would completely cover the current budget deficit.

But some senators wanted more to cushion the drastic cuts to public education and health and human services contained in the Senate budget for the next two years.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, proposed an amendment to the bill that would use an additional $3 billion of the Rainy Day Fund for the 2012-2013 budget. 

“We’re cutting $5.5 billion from public schools, $1.5 billion from higher education and $8 billion from health and human services,” Sen. Ellis said. “We’ve been told we can’t use the Rainy Day Fund now because we’re waiting for a rainier day.”

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, proposed a second amendment that would add only $1.1 billion more from the fund to partially cover school growth costs. Sen Ellis’s amendment was tabled on an 18-13 vote and Sen. West’s withdrawn.

“The sole purpose of this bill today is to balance the current budget.” Ogden told lawmakers, and assured West and Ellis that they would have their chance to tack on their amendments to HB 4, the supplemental spending bill that fills the budget gap for the current budget year.

The bill passed 30-1—with Sen. Brian Birdwell being the only vote against. “30-1 is a pretty strong signal,” Ogden said after the vote, “We hope that sends a message to other lawmakers in the Capitol.” But the bill covers only this current biennium’s budget deficit. The 2012-2013 budget is a different story.

Ogden has been meeting with House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts the past couple weeks to hammer out some sort of compromise between the two chambers differing budget proposals.

The House and the Senate agree on almost every issue except Article III— public education—Ogden told reporters. “But Article III is half the budget,” Ogden said. “So in one breath it sounds like a lot, but in another it sounds like we’re only half way there.”