Did the House Get Rolled on the Budget?

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Last week, after the budget conference committee started laying out its compromise agreement, the general impression around the Lege seemed to be that on the single most important bill of the session, the House had been steamrolled by the Senate. The conferees, in keeping with the stated priorities of Dan Patrick and the Senate, had agreed to include about $1.3bn for property tax relief and about $800m for border security over the forthcoming fiscal biennium. They also stuck with the Senate figure for public education—an additional $1.5bn compared to the 2014-15 biennium, as opposed to the $2.2bn the House had authorized in its version of the budget. The conferees also abandoned a House provision on Medicaid: the lower chamber had proposed an additional $460m for Medicaid reimbursement payments (in an effort to encourage more doctors to accept Medicaid payments), the Senate had not, and the conference committee abandoned the idea.

Some representatives were disappointed, understandably enough. The House passed its version of the budget on a 141-5 vote, and its sales tax relief proposal–the rival to the Senate’s plan for property tax relief–unanimously. (The Senate passed its budget later with a similarly huge 30-1 margin, but it’s easier for leadership to twist people’s arms in a chamber with only 31 members—especially this year, clearly.) And some representatives, additionally, were surprised. In addition to the fact that the House has been unusually cohesive this year, they had the more internally consistent approach to the process, the more experienced conferees, and on public education, at least, probably the more popular position.

From my perspective, both chambers won some and lost some, and the impression that the House lost overall is due to the fact that the House lost on a handful of visible issues, as a result of circumstances beyond their control; and if the House was going to lose, that was the best way to do it. How I see it, below the jump.

First, the conference budget is pretty close to the budget as originally passed to the House; the discrepancies noted above are indeed notable, but they add up to about 2% of the total. It’s also pretty close to the Senate’s version of the budget, but keep in mind that the budgets were pretty close to begin with, and since this is a “House budget year”, the Senate’s budget was an amended version of HB1, with most of its major components having originated in the House. The conference budget’s approach to pensions, for example, is aligned with the pensions bill that passed in the House. Transportation funding will be expanded (beyond the expansion authorized by voters last year) by ending diversions from the Highway Fund, as Joe Straus has advocated for some time. A Senate proposal to dedicate part of the motor vehicle sales tax, from Robert Nichols, fizzled out. On border security, too, the House’s approach has effectively been adopted; the conference budget basically takes the $565m plan the House passed in March and adds some $330m. Since Patrick has been advocating for more border security spending, the price tag suggests that it’s the Senate plan, but since the extra money is mostly for overtime pay and new hires, I’d call it a bigger version of the House plan.

There are really only two major components of the conference budget that seem like Senate plans to me. The first is about half a billion dollars for crumbling state facilties—an unglamorous but worthy effort on the part of Kevin Eltife. The other, of course, is the property tax relief. Based on Dennis Bonnen’s anhedonic layout last night, and the skeptical questions offered by both Republicans and Democrats at the back mic, I gather the House isn’t thrilled about this minor and ephemeral “relief” either. But in the absence of intervention from Greg Abbott (the governor), all the House could really do was what it did. Using his sales tax cuts as leverage in the negotiations, Bonnen was able to talk the biennial cost of the plan down by about a billion dollars, and he flatly refused the Senate’s scheme to exempt property tax relief from counting against the spending cap. The Senate nonetheless got a hefty property tax relief plan, worth about $1.3bn this biennium. That explains the House’s other two losses: to stay under the spending cap (with a little bit of breathing room), the conferees gave up about $700m for public education, about $500m for Medicaid, and a few bits and pieces here and there.

The more startling sacrifice (at least for an inveterate Medicaid troll, like me) is the underfunding of public education. Having heard some truly woeful math and science on the floor of both chambers this session, I think we should consider withdrawing from Medicaid altogether, and turning all our roads to gravel, so we can throw money at public schools in the hope that it will help. However, since we still haven’t heard the final word from the courts on this most recent round of school finance lawsuits, public education is the one area of the budget likely to be expanded by a third party, regardless of what the Lege does or fails to do. The House, however, doesn’t seem to see it that way. One Democratic representative told me earlier today that we can’t really count on the court to help the schools, since the state’s softening economy, in conjunction with the imminent franchise tax cuts (House version, incidentally), will likely mean a precarious revenue picture by the time the ruling arrives. A Republican representative, meanwhile, offered the inverse concern: had the House school finance plan passed, the state might have been able to implement it without court interference; since it didn’t, the courts are presumably going to step in, and require much more money than the conference budget allows. So between the property tax relief and the public schools, it’s not surprising that the House has some heartburn.

But as a political matter, at least, there’s a silver lining for the House: since they lost on those issues, they can’t be blamed for winning. Patrick and the senators—and perhaps Abbott—now own the trivial property tax relief, and the underwhelming support for public schools. Most Texans probably won’t notice. But some will. Patrick, in fact, may be one of them; his statement on the “legislative accord” between the chambers is the least triumphal press release he’s sent all session.

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  • Indiana Pearl

    Ms. G: about 2/3’s of nursing home patients are financed by Medicaid. Should we throw Granny off a cliff?

    • Unwound

      i think she was being facetious

      • Indiana Pearl

        Guess I have no sense of humor.

        • John Johnson

          What do you mean? I often laugh at your posts.

          • Indiana Pearl

            We keep each other amused.

          • Blue Dogs

            It’s going to be a very interesting final several days of the 84th Session of the TX Legislature!

    • Jim

      The solution is not to pay for nursing home care, but to discourage nursing homes as the choice for many. There are many people in nursing homes who could be cared for cheaper and with more compassion in ALF or home care settings.

      • Indiana Pearl

        I agree on some level, but a single daughter with a demented parent usually has to work. Who takes care of Granny? And it’s almost always Granny, not Gramps.

        My mother lived with my family for the last several years of her life, but I had a supportive spouse and child and enough income to pay for extra household help. And it wasn’t cheap.

        Right now nursing home care is cheaper. What you suggest is more desirable, but more expensive.

        • Jim

          I thank you for showing love to your mother by caring for her in her last days. That is a great example of love, and hopefully your children learned from that example. I wish more people were willing to take that sacrifice on to love their own parents as the Bible calls them to.

          Your example of the single daughter who works is a real problem, but one that should not be so common. As I have worked in both the nursing home and home health settings, I have noticed that those situations are USUALLY due mostly to a breakdown in the family (various different reasons). A societal focus on the family could minimize those types of situations.

          Surprisingly, nursing home care is not cheaper. In my community, the private pay cost of a SNF is about $6,000 per month, for usually poor care. In contrast, the rate of pay for a home care provider starts at $8.00 (it goes up with experience, but this is really easy work because the client usually sleeps through many of the hours they are there). Assuming the worst case scenario, where there are no family or friends to help and the client needs 24/7 care, there would be a need for 720 hours of care which comes out to $5760 a month. This is cheaper than a nursing home. In the vast majority of cases, the family is able to provide care full time (if they are willing), and providing care at night is not difficult (when the family is usually home anyways). This cuts costs drastically. In my professional experience, medicaid paying for nursing homes is almost always due to children who want to get rid of their parents and who want to siphon their remaining valuables off. I have seen this time and time again.

          • Indiana Pearl

            There are more costs associated with care than room and board – and which family member gives up a full-time job to care for Granny, a signficant loss of income depending on the caregiver’s earning capacity. So let’s say $5760 + lost revenue. Not even comparable . . .

            My mother had all her marbles and was not bedridden, so my job was a lot easier. A demented person cannot be left alone.

          • Jim

            I get the loss of income, and I know that this is very important to the average dual income family out there. Losing that second income is akin to losing a god to many out there.

            It seems that the rich can afford to hire somebody, but often fail to; while the poor sacrifice much to take care of their loved ones.

            My point with the costs is that the state should not be in the business of paying for nursing homes when it would actually be slightly cheaper to pay for 1 on 1 care in the home. I don’t advocate that the state pay either way, but if we assume the position that the state ought to pay for LTC, then I am arguing that home care is far better than nursing home care at every level.

          • Indiana Pearl

            You’re not factoring in the “salary” of the caregiver. Either the state pays it or the family does without. Who makes up the difference? Most states have strict rules about who can be reimbursed for eldercare. If one is independently wealthy, they have many choices. Most Americans are not, so choose options that are affordable.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Not to be discourteous, but the bible played no part in my decision to care for my mother. That was how I was raised and how she deserved to be cared for. Morality has no denomination.

  • Texas Publius

    Dan Patrick will say this was “one of the greatest legislative sessions in Texas history” about a million times between now and next session. The problem for Patrick, with him now as Lt Gov, is he can’t blame Straus as easily, because both are in the leadership now and take credit/blame together for the big legislation that passes/fails.

    The Tea Party folks are picking up on this when they rip Patrick, Abbott, and Straus. Dan becoming Lt Gov will ultimately take all the wind out of the sails of the remove Straus movement.

    • Blue Dogs

      Will Patrick use this as an excuse to campaign for Governor in 2018 ?

    • Jim

      Um, no. The tea party is still ripping Strauss. The senate passed many key conservative bills that died in the House. If you want to see what the tea party thinks, then go to empowertexans.com and read the comments on any story there. It is very telling. Patrick has received some criticism, but it pails in comparison.

  • Unwound

    hey erica, are you guys able to keep your heads above water right now? looks like austin is drowning

    • Indiana Pearl

      Parts of Austin were temporarily flooded, but tides have subsided.

  • cavecritter

    Bastrop State Park: It is has survived forest fire. Now it has survived massive flooding. BUT WAIT!!! There’s still six days left for the Lege to open it to fracking.

  • http://www.fortbendconservative.org/ John Bernard Books

    Lt Guv Dan Patrick makes history, democrats no longer have their foot squarely on the back of the necks of republicans.

    https://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/2015/05/25/lt-governor-patrick-statement-on-house-bill-1690/

  • WUSRPH

    Abortion, guns, ethics, PIU and dozens of others all on Tuesday….fights, massive chubbing, points of order flying….a good time for all.

    • John Johnson

      PATRIOTISM is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it.
      Mark Twain

      ____________________________________________________________

      • Indiana Pearl

        Question authority.

        • WUSRPH

          “for conquer we must when our cause it IS just.”

      • Beerman

        “Patriotism should be tempered with Common Sense and Justice.”
        Author Unknown

    • Blue Dogs

      Have you’ve heard anything on Senate Resolution 66 (pushed by Joan Huffman) to move up the inauguration date of the Governor & LG to the 2nd week that the Legislature is sworn in ?
      I know it passed the State Senate by 24-6 vote.

  • Road Hand

    “A Senate proposal to dedicate part of the motor vehicle sales tax, from Robert Nichols, fizzled out.” It did?

  • Indiana Pearl
    • Blue Dogs

      Haven’t been on Twitter that much.

      • Indiana Pearl

        Nor I, but the case cited above was based on Twitter behavior.

        A couple of years ago, a member of the USMC posted scathing criticisms of Obama on FB. His CO found out and he was “drummed out of the Corps,” as they say.

        • Blue Dogs

          LOL LOL!

    • Lilly

      One down!

      I especially liked this part written by Caitlin Dewey at the Post :

      “See, there’s a popular misconception that moderation on social networks
      and other Web sites is governed by the First Amendment. (For more on
      this mistaken point of view, plz see the comments section of virtually
      any Washington Post story.) That is not, however, technically correct.
      The First Amendment defines the relationship between you, as a citizen,
      and the government. It does not define your relationship between, say,
      you and a private corporation, or you and the university you attend, or you and your neighborhood association.”