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‘Bipartisanship at its finest’: Texas Senate passes budget with property tax relief, teacher raises

 Sen. Joan Huffman, the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, speaks about the Senate's budget plan on Monday, April 17, 2023.
Texas Senate livestream
Sen. Joan Huffman, the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, speaks about the Senate's budget plan on Monday, April 17, 2023.

“Bipartisanship at its finest.”

That’s how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick described the Texas Senate’s work on its proposed spending plan for 2024 and 2025.

The Senate unanimously voted on a $308 billion budget Monday, which includes a pay raise for state workers, as well as funding to address mental health statewide.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said the spending plan includes $142.1 billion in general revenue funds.

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of revenue to the state,” said Huffman, the chair of the finance committee. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address long-standing needs, pay down debts, make strategic investments in our state infrastructure and historic sites, and most importantly, give money back to the taxpayer.”

The proposal earmarks $16.5 billion for property tax relief. Patrick has said the money can be used to raise the homestead exemption, from $40,000 to $70,000.

The plan also earmarks $10 billion for the construction of electric-generating facilities, and $900 million in new funding for mental health services.

The Senate’s plan also proposes spending $4.6 billion on border enforcement operations.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, praised the budget for funding “shared priorities” and tackling property taxes.

However, Zaffirini said she was disappointed to see the budget included language banning the use of public funds for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at public universities.

But Zaffirini and other Democrats praised the proposed spending on education. The Senate plan allocates $5 billion for schools. The money could be used to give teachers pay raises or on school safety and special education services.

Next step: Negotiations

The proposal now goes to the House for the full consideration of that chamber.

The House passed its version of the budget earlier this month. So. the two chambers will likely negotiate to settle some significant differences between their respective spending plans.

One of the biggest: How to tackle property taxes.

The Senate has said its allocation would be used to raise the homestead exemption. The House, on the other hand, would use $17 billion to cut the appraisal cap from 10% to 5%. Patrick, the leader of the Senate, has said that’s a no-go.

Both chambers will also have to hash out their differences over school vouchers.

The House’s spending plan would prohibit using public funds for the creation or maintenance of programs such as school vouchers and education savings accounts.

The Republican majority in the Texas Senate has made school vouchers a priority item for this legislative session.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán