Texas House Goes Robin Hood on Business Incentive Fund, Gives Money to Child Welfare, Medicaid

The move prompted an impassioned speech on government transparency by one member and a brief golf viewing break for the rest.

Sergio Muñoz, Jr. and Governor Greg Abbott  Sergio Muñoz, Jr./Facebook, Gov. Greg Abbott/Patrick Michels

In another swipe at Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas House voted Thursday to remove $43 million from a fund offering incentives to businesses controlled by his office and transfer the money to child welfare and Medicaid.

During the first few hours of the marathon House budget debate, an amendment by state Representative Sergio Muñoz, D-Palmview, called for defunding of the Texas Enterprise Fund. The $43 million was split in half, with $21.5 million redirected to hiring direly needed staff at Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services, and the other $21.5 million diverted to reversing cuts to acute therapy services for kids.

Lawmakers in 2015 approved a $350 million cut to Medicaid payment for therapy services for disabled children — a move that endangered tens of thousands of kids who depend on the care, and caused an uproar among families and Medicaid advocates.

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Muñoz’s amendment was a Robin Hood-esque move that left at least one lawmaker fuming. By completely gutting the Enterprise Fund, Muñoz’s amendment nullified all other potential amendments — 18 pages’ worth — that planned to pull cash from the program to fund other priorities.

State Representative Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford

After the amendment was adopted without a record vote, state Representative Jonathan Stickland, a widely disliked tea party bomb-thrower, took to the podium to air his grievances, calling it “one of the most offensive things and disgusting things” to ever occur on the House floor. (Stickland can be forgiven for his inaccurate statement; he wasn’t in the Lege when Gene Seaman gave his Viagra speech.)

“I’ve requested different things and I’ve been constantly cut off at the knees,” said Stickland, turning his objection to the amendment into a personal speech on government transparency. “And maybe you think that’s funny because we don’t agree politically, but rules exist, the Constitution exists, to protect the minority and our rights as individuals. One day, you might be in the minority on something that you absolutely care about, something that your constituents expect you to fight on.”

As Stickland continued to fight, several lawmakers walked off the floor, apparently to watch the 2017 Masters Golf Tournament.

At one point, cheers erupted from a hallway just outside the chamber where all of the missing representatives seemed to have gone. The ruckus further fueled Stickland to call out the “jokes and screams coming from the back hall right now” he thought were directed at him, but a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus walked over to the press table to assure the media that the cheers had not been to tease Stickland; they merely coincided with the moment golfer Phil Mickelson made a birdie.

Stickland’s own amendment, slated to be heard later in the day, proposed reallocating the Enterprise Fund’s $43 million to the Texas Education Agency’s Foundation School Program. A motion for what would have essentially been a “do-over” failed 18-127.

“Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense: #txlege would put money back in Enterprise Fund so it could be taken away again later today,” tweeted Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, during Stickland’s impassioned speech.

Staff writers Sophie Novack and Lyanne A. Guarecuco contributed to this report.

Laura Marie Thompson is a freelance journalist, former Observer intern and Houston native. She drinks too much coffee and writes about gender and immigration.

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Published at 5:02 pm CST
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