AUSTIN (AP) — Public schools and mental health services in Texas would recover more of the funding gutted two years ago with the help of $5.2 billion in general purpose spending added Wednesday to a state budget plan that now heads to the Senate.
The extra dollars beef up a lean first draft of the 2014-15 budget that Republicans proudly unveiled in January and Democrats at the time blasted as needlessly tight-fisted given a roaring Texas economy that is projected to flush state coffers with historic revenues.
The revised budget unanimously approved by the Senate Finance Committee uses $94.1 billion in general revenue, which would be a 7.7 percent increase over what the state is currently spending.
General revenue is the slice of the proposed $195.5 billion two-year budget that lawmakers most influence. Combined with federal dollars, the budget passed by the committee Wednesday is $8.6 billion more than the base Senate budget released in January.
"Any of us didn't get everything we wanted, but I think we came up with a good work product given the budget situation that we're in," said Republican Sen. Tommy Williams, the committee chairman.
Williams expects the full Senate to vote on the bill next week.
It includes an additional $1.4 billion more for public schools in Texas, which lost nearly four times that amount in 2011 when lawmakers made deep across-the-board cuts to close a massive shortfall. Mental health programs and resources would receive an extra $240 million, though advocates say Texas would still rank near the bottom when it comes to mental health spending nationwide.
Democrats vowed to push for more funding for schools and social services in the remainder of the 140-day session that ends in May.
Yet they also praised the lack of acrimony during budget negations this time around. Those talks routinely evolved into tense exchanges two years ago, when lawmakers scrambled to fill a $27 billion budget hole and divisive proposals over immigration and women's health stifled bipartisanship.
"It was a different tone this session altogether," Democratic Sen. Royce West said.
Unspent money remains on the table, although Williams said there is fewer than $1 billion left under the spending cap. Lawmakers can vote to exceed the cap, but that's unlikely in the Republican-controlled Legislature.