John Otto

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas House of Representatives started its discussion Tuesday of an approximately $210 billion budget.

At print time, the discussion over HB 1, which lays out the House’s proposed state budget, was over eight hours long, and legislators had discussed roughly 100 of the more than 350 filed amendments. The House had not yet reached a discussion on article three, containing higher education budget information.

Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), appropriations chair, said he and the subcommittee chairs reviewed every amendment in preparation for the floor discussion.

“There are amendments, obviously, that we will oppose, and we will state why we oppose them [or] move to table,” Otto said. “There are amendments here we will accept. There are amendments here where we will tell members we’re going to let the will of the House speak.”

At the bill’s second reading, legislators discussed public education, border security, the wage gap and abstinence education, among other topics.

The discussion started with debate over a public education amendment that Otto filed. The amendment, which ultimately passed, would give public schools $800 million in funding, contingent on the passage of HB 1759.

HB 1759 would disperse state funding for public school maintenance, operations and debt.

Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) filed an amendment, which did not pass, to study and report data on the gender wage gap in Texas.

“Women in Texas continue to face wage inequality,” González said. “Don’t you believe that your daughters, your wives, your grandchildren should all be paid equally?”

According to journalism assistant professor Mary Bock, the gender pay gap is a result of factors such as women working fewer hours to care for children, or traditionally female jobs paying less than traditionally male jobs.

“It is such a complicated issue, that a study might help us get a handle on what’s going on in Texas specifically,” Bock said. 

González filed another amendment, which would increase funding for colonias, housing communities generally located on the border, by about $345,000. The funds would be moved from the Department of Public Safety budget, which receives more than $565 million in the current proposal, an almost $94 million increase form the current budget. This amendment also failed.

About seven hours into the reading, legislators began a discussion on abstinence funding in the state. Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) proposed an amendment that would transfer $2.5 million from funds dedicated to HIV and STD prevention to an abstinence education program. At the reading, Spitzer said abstinence is the only way to guarantee safe sex and HIV prevention.

The conversation got personal when Spitzer told his fellow representatives he was abstinent until marriage.

“[My parents] established that in me, and I hope to establish that in other children, so they can do the same thing,” Spitzer said.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington), who opposed the bill, said it was a mistake to take money from funds working to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

“I think abstinence is a valid program, but money to STD and HIV are equally valid as well,” Turner said.

The amendment passed 97–47.

Rep. John Otto speaks during the the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Legislature could boost TEXAS Grant funding to historical levels if it follows recommendations unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The committee approved adding $150 million for the TEXAS Grant Program to the Legislature’s preliminary budget proposals. The initial proposals would have allocated $559.5 million to the program for the 2014-15 biennium, the same amount approved during the previous legislative session for the 2012-13 session. 

Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton and chair of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that deals with higher education funding, said the increase would allow the program, which serves students whose expected family contribution to their cost of attendance is $4,000 or less, to serve more students statewide.

“This is not only the largest biennium-to-biennium increase ever in TEXAS Grants, it is also the highest total ever in the program, which should cover approximately 87 percent of all eligible students,” Otto said.

Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner, told Otto’s subcommittee in February that the TEXAS Grant Program would need $1.3 billion to fully fund all eligible applicants during the 2014-15 biennium. However, the coordinating board requested $719.6 million in state funds for the program during the 2014-15 biennium.

The funding levels recommended by the committee Thursday for TEXAS Grants fall short of that request. However, when $15 million in donations to the program are factored in, the total amount available to the program equals $724.5 million, exceeding the coordinating board’s request.

The program serves 8,449 students at UT. The Legislature allocated $50.7 million to eligible students during the 2012-13 biennium, according to the Office of Student Financial Services.

The committee also recommended increasing all formula funding to state higher education institutions by 3 percent. The state uses formulas that include enrollment and graduation rates among other factors to determine the state’s contribution to universities and colleges throughout the state.

Mary Knight, associate vice president and chief financial officer, said she does not know how the increase in formula funding will impact the University, but she doubts the increase will make up for past budget cuts.

Under preliminary proposals, the Texas House of Representatives would allocate $478.8 million in state general revenue funds to the University during the 2014-15 biennium, while the Senate would allocate $483.8 million over the biennium. Both of the initial proposals are $9 to $14 million less than the $492.5 million the Legislature allocated to UT in the last biennium.

“When we get the actual documents that show the appropriations by institution, we will know how we’ll be affected,” Knight said.

Published on March 8, 2013 as "TEXAS grant budget up for substantial increase".