Lean budget bill starts spending talks at Capitol

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm •  Published: January 14, 2013
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Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior budget analyst for the progressive Center for Public Policy Priorities, had not immediately seen the full proposals Monday. But she said the only way the state could fund enrollment growth under the numbers announced — $53.6 billion total for 2014-15 — was by cutting per-student spending statewide. That's what lawmakers did in 2011, reducing funding by $538 per pupil while facing a $27 billion total budget shortfall.

DeLuna Castro has estimated that lawmakers need to pass a $96 billion budget this session just to maintain state services at the current levels and keep up with population growth.

"This comes nowhere near what is needed to fix our schools, ensure access to health care and do something about congestion on our roads," she said.

The decision to appropriate no new grant money to CPRIT came as somewhat of surprise. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been lining up to blast the embattled agency in recent weeks, lawmakers have mostly called for stricter oversight instead of cutting off funds entirely.

CPRIT is under a moratorium from handing out any taxpayer money while prosecutors investigate an $11 million grant to a private company. Agency leaders approved the award in 2010 without reviewing or scrutinizing the proposal, and the discovery in October was the last in a series of yearlong problems that resulted in sweeping resignations.

Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature is expected to pass a $6.8 billion supplemental spending bill in the coming weeks that will settle holes in the current budget. Most of that is in the form of a $5 billion Medicaid tab from last session.

The Senate proposal reflects a 1.8 percent increase in general-revenue spending compared to the current budget. Pitts said the House proposal covers Medicaid caseload growth for the next two years.

"For us to think that we can go back to the same spending levels that we did before the recession is unrealistic," said Democratic Sen. Juan Hinojosa, vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

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