The Texas Capitol “fortification” plan seems within the quick lane and wins funding within the preliminary state finances

AUSTIN – Legislators on Thursday tabled introductory budgets for the next two years that include $ 39.1 million to improve security at the Texas Capitol with more bomb-sniffing dogs, 74 new hires, and additional equipment like video cameras and panic buttons.

Senator Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who will serve as the Senate’s top budget writer for the fourth year in a row, described the effort in a press release as “new means of strengthening security at the Texas Capitol, including additional soldiers and improved security. ”

Steve McCraw, director of the Department of Public Security, described the 46-square-meter Austin Capitol complex in a neglected budget request last fall as “a high-quality target for a wide range of violent actors, including anti-government extremists.”

The state police developed the plan after asking US intelligence for a “comprehensive needs assessment,” he said.

McCraw’s motion, filed nearly three months before white nationalists and other supporters of former President Donald Trump’s attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, came after several months of violence and unrest over racial injustice and police brutality in cities like Portland, Ore . and Seattle, Wash.

The approval from GOP leaders in both chambers for “basic budgets” tabled Thursday, and which would grant McCraw every penny he requested, underscores how law and order will be a big topic of this year’s legislature. The issue includes Governor Greg Abbott’s frequent calls for harsh sanctions against cities that “disappoint the police”.

And the launch budgets of both chambers would spend almost as much state money as the $ 800.6 million lawmakers spent in 2019 on additional patrols on the Texan-Mexico border by state law enforcement officers and additional surveillance equipment.

Although the coronavirus pandemic and economic contraction have squeezed state tax revenues, the startup budgets in both the House and Senate are sticking to the state’s commitment from the last session to spend more on public schools and help school districts cut local property taxes .

In varying amounts – the house bill is more generous – the proposed budgets continue to add money to improve the solvency of the underfunded teacher pension schemes.

Lt. Senate chairman Dan Patrick, Governor Dan Patrick, said in a press release that the chamber’s budget reflected its commitment to continue to pay for “the 2019 increases in historic education funding and teacher salaries.”

Spokesman Dade Phelan repeated Patrick’s satisfaction note.

The House’s draft budget “encourages the legislature’s commitment to the reforms of historical public education, school funding and property taxes that were passed at the last session,” he said in a written statement.

During this session, Members of the House will work to “do what’s right for our students,” added Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont.

SB 1 finances essential services, keeps pace with growth and fulfills our obligations to vulnerable citizens. We have numerous tools to balance this budget. To do this, we need to redefine our priorities, stretch every dollar, and find more efficient ways to deliver services.

– Senator Jane Nelson (@SenJaneNelson) Jan. 21, 2021

Nelson, who heads the Senate Budgets Committee for budgeting, shared a wonder with Patrick that the Texan economy has proven resilient enough to keep legislation from sweeping cuts.

“Texas’s economic strength – and the work we have done to review agency budgets – puts us in a better position than expected,” she said in a statement.

Eva DeLuna Castro from the progressive group Every Texan was relieved.

“We are pleased that there are no cuts in health care and education at this point,” she said. “There may be some underfunding from college campuses, but given that COVID-19 has changed all of that, it’s hard to know what needs exist and what new needs have been created.”

DeLuna Castro was referring to a November national report that highlighted how budgetary needs in higher education, particularly student support, have changed during the pandemic.

Both the House and Senate would spend $ 797.1 million on border security over the 2022-2023 cycle – a modest reduction of $ 3.5 million.

The lower figure reflects fewer $ 3 million in funding to install and maintain border cameras and the elimination of $ 1 million in grants to border fire departments, both of which are overseen by Abbott’s office.

The budgets proposed by the two chambers also provide for a cut of $ 300 million by the $ 3 million that the Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board is spending on the removal of Carrizo sugar cane along the Rio Grande River during the current cycle . Efforts improve visibility for law enforcement and improve water conservation, the board said.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar, shown on a video call as he released his biennial sales estimate on Monday, said consumer spending rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic

Last week, Comptroller Glenn Hegar predicted that budget writers would have $ 112.5 billion in general revenue over the next two-year fiscal cycle.

The Senate’s base budget would spend $ 119.69 billion in general revenue. the houses, $ 119.75 billion.

Both would spend around $ 7.2 billion more than Hegar’s sales estimate would allow.

While the state constitution prohibits congressional-style deficit spending, lawmakers can bypass a levy cap by delaying a large state back-to-school payment in September, the start of the next large state back-to-school budget. You can also fall back on the government’s “Rainy Days” fund, which Hegar expects to grow to $ 11.6 billion by August 31, 2022, unless lawmakers spends part of that session.

In the summaries of the Legislative Budget Board on the starting budgets of both chambers, there are references to possible accounting tricks and the cushion of rainy day dollars in the Economic Stabilization Fund, which it calls “savings”.

“We have many tools available to help balance this budget,” noted Nelson.

Neither she, Patrick’s office, nor the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, responded to a question about whether they anticipate spending money on rainy days in a separate, “supplementary,” or emergency spending bill that legislators put in each Meeting passed.

It will confirm the 5% spending cuts that Abbott, Patrick and former spokesman Dennis Bonnen ordered last year. They are only supposed to save the state about $ 1 billion. They eliminated 2,658 government jobs, many of which were vacant, DeLuna Castro said.

Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez replied, however.

“No assumptions were made in the additional bill, including the use of the economic stabilization fund,” he said in an email. “Members of the House will consider all options available to them as the bill goes through the process.”

In the guest seating areas in the chamber of the house at the Texas Capitol in Austin, signs were placed enforcing physical distancing.  The legislature opens its session Tuesday amid a pandemic, economic recession and political turmoil.