Pre-filed amendments to budget bills set the stage for culture wars on spending
Wed March 30, 2011 6:16 pm

The next several days of Texas House budget debate may be as much about the culture wars as state spending.

Pre-filed amendments to the three budget-related bills before the House contain limitations on private school vouchers, funding for Planned Parenthood and directives to higher education to fund centers for traditional family values if they provide funding for support centers for gay students. Debate is set to begin Thursday on House Bill 4 to erase a deficit in the current budget and on House Bill 275 to take $3.2 billion out of the state's so-called rainy day fund. Debate is set for Friday and into the weekend on House Bill 1, a bare bones spending plan for the next two years.

Some of the pre-filed amendments may never be debated because there is a possibility that they are not procedurally proper for an appropriations bill. But they do show state spending is about more than just spending – or in this case cutting.

Among the hundreds of amendments, those by Democrats would appear to have little chance of passage. Mostly they take money from one program and give it to another.

For instance, one would reduce state funding for Attorney General Gregg Abbott’s child support collections division by about $34 million a year and give the money to the state’s public schools.

Democrats are trying to add poison pills to the effort to take $3.2 billion from the rainy day fund to cover a deficit in the current budget year.

The amendments by Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Scott Hochberg of Houston and Craig Eiland of Galveston essentially say that if the 2012-2013 state appropriations bill does not continue funding for Texas Grants, the Foundation School Program and Medicaid at levels approved by the Legislature in 2009, then the bill to tap into the rainy day fund is void.

What might make that interesting is Republicans can vote for the amendments, knowing they will be removed by the Senate or in conference committee. But it would give the GOP lawmakers some cover for when they take a final vote cutting those programs. The risk would be that if a two-year budget is not passed in regular session, then the House would have to take another vote approving the removal of the poison pills.

The culture war takes place in the amendments to the budget, House Bill 1.

At least three proposed amendments would prohibit funding of any organization that provides abortion services or refers pregnant women to facilities that provide abortion services. This is clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood.

Texas Conservative Coalition Chairman Wayne Christian has one to require universities to provide traditional family values centers if they support “a gender and sexuality center” for gay and lesbian students. Another of his would require universities to dedicate at least 10 percent of their courses for undergraduates to the study of Western Civilization.

Austin Democrat Eddie Rodriguez is offering up an amendment that prohibits any state spending on private school vouchers, pilot project or otherwise.

In the realm of state employees in the crosshairs, several Republican proposals would cut state employee pay. Rep. Ken Paxton is proposing a five percent pay cut over the next two years. In the current supplemental bill, House Bill 4, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview would cut five days pay from employees earning more than $50,000 a year except public safety employees.

BY R.G. RATCLIFFE

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