AP NEWS

House budget goes to Senate, action needed

March 29, 2019

The state budget is usually the most contentious issue of any legislative session, and rightly so. But the Texas House of Representatives just did something it rarely does — unanimously approve a budget bill, after just 11 hours of mostly pleasant discussion. Whether that was good or bad for taxpayers remains to be seen, but the budget focus now shifts to the Senate.

That chamber must now reconcile its views on the state budget with that of House, and that is not going to be either easy or unanimous. The House and Senate have different budget priorities, as they invariably do. But the final version that heads to the governor at the end of the session — assuming the House and Senate get that far that fast — must be responsible and visionary.

That’s always the target. But in this session, the Legislature has the money and political will to get something done instead of kicking the can down the road.

Unlike the 2017 session, there is no controversial measure like the “bathroom bill” that divides lawmakers and supplants more important issues. Democrats also gained seats in November’s election, cutting their gap in the House from a rather embarrassing 95-55 to a more respectable 83-67. Republicans are obviously still in control, as they are in the Senate with a 19-12 margin, after a one-seat gain for the Democrats.

The Texas GOP also seems chastened by the election results and the fairly close margins of victories for statewide candidates. This time, they’re more inclined — so far, at least — to work with Democrats instead of ramming through their positions. That change is welcome.

The state also has a healthy economy and budget surplus to work with this time. The House budget, for example, provides an extra $6 billion for public education and $3 billion for property tax relief. Those are big, unprecedented numbers for those issues. If the final budget agreed upon by both chambers is close to those totals, Texas will take a big step forward.

The mood and momentum are promising, but of course disputes can flare up at any time in one chamber or the other. House and Senate members should try to avoid that even as they debate their differences. The goal of a smart, responsible state budget is in sight, and it must be realized.