Patrick Michels

House Passes Budget As Session Deadline Nears

by and

Above: Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview)

The end of the regular session draws near, and the House is one step closer to sealing the state’s budget for the next two years. With a vote of 110 ayes and 29 nays Sunday afternoon, the House passed House Bill 1025, a general appropriations bill that is necessary to the budget. The fight isn’t over yet: The House still needs to pass Senate Bill 1 tonight too.

HB 1025, in its final form, includes disaster recovery relief, $2 billion for the state water plan, and $200 million for the Permanent School Fund, among others.

Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview), who is opposed to the budget package, attempted to shoot down HB 1025 by calling two points of order on the bill. Both were overruled. Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) chastised Simpson for attempting to derail a bill when, he said, it’s vital to passing the budget.

“We get to a point in time—tomorrow, it’s sine die. This bill is just as important as SB 1. … I just think that this is a very important bill and we need to think about if we’re going to fund the priorities of this state,” he said.

House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) put a little fear of God in the representatives before the vote, speaking on how 1025 is necessary to help pay for such state needs as relief from natural disasters.

“Let me make it very clear: If we don’t get 100 votes, we will not be able to pay for our wildfires. We cannot do our disaster recovery. We can’t help the city of West after the explosion they had. We can’t pay for water. There’s a whole lot in this bill that we’re paying for, but we need 100 votes.”

Pitts’ vision of a statewide armageddon if HB 1025 should fail seemed to do the trick. With his words fresh in mind—and with House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) casting a rare vote for the bill from the dais—representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill.

As of this writing, the House had moved on to debate on Senate Bill 1—we’ll update this post after lawmakers vote. —Emily Mathis

Update at 7:40: The House just passed the last of the remaining budget bills, SB 1. Lawmakers only debated the budget briefly, but Simpson, once again, accounted for most of the drama.

After trying to derail the bill with a few more unsuccessful points of order, Simpson stood for a passionate speech against the budget reminiscent of his remarks late last session, complaining about the “political magicians” in the Capitol and the “accounting ingenuity” by which they keep the general public out of the budget process.

He spoke specifically about $500 million for CPRIT, the scandalized state cancer research fund, which was added into the budget in conference committee. Most Texans could never see the bill before their lawmakers voted, he said, because last-minute details of the budget bill were only available on the Capitol’s internal document system.

“I daresay that 25 million people are not here in the Capitol,” Simpson said.

“That’s why they send you here, Dave!” Rep. Larry Philips (R-Sherman) heckled from his desk in the back of the chamber.

“Don’t put your sumer vacation above doing what is right,” Simpson urged. “This is not a good budget though there is good in it.”

Voting began as soon as Simpson finished his speech—and ended before he could reach his desk. Walking briskly, he tried in vain to signal to his deskmate Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) to vote for him, and arrived just in time to hit the button himself, just after voting closed. Slamming books onto his desk, he walked back up and called Speaker Straus down from the dais to share some angry words.

It was the only drama in the House’s budget debate, as most lawmakers seemed light-hearted and relaxed on the next-to-last day of the session. Lawmakers’ kids played on their parents laptops or raced toy cars on the House floor. Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) walked the floor with his iPad, asking if anyone knew who was behind the Fake Joe Straus Twitter account. “I just don’t see how you can be doing something like that,” he said. “I’m sure somebody’ll find out.”

Rep. John Otto noted SB 1 includes $5.2 billion more for schools over the current budget, and focuses the spending increase on the state’s poorest districts. Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) reminded Otto that the Legislature cut more from education in 2011 than it would replace in SB1.

Herrero was one of 29 votes against the bill, along with 28 conservative Republicans. The Senate passed its last piece of the budget deal earlier Sunday, so the budget heads to Gov. Rick Perry next. —Patrick Michels