Editor’s Note: This post and the post above both focus on interns’ experiences during “Budget Week,” the intense period of time during which the Texas House of Representatives debated and voted on their version of the state’s biennial (two-year) budget and the various amendments proposed by members. Debate lasted for over 15 hours on Thursday, April 6 and the early hours of Friday, April 7, before the House approved its version of the budget around 2 a.m., by a vote of 131-16. The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between the funding priorities of each body, in order to adopt a final state budget.
by Joel Kissell, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Before we moved to Austin for the 85th legislative session, everyone warned us about Budget Week. While members, leaders, and constituents hope that other pieces of legislation pass, the budget determines how the state will spend its funds over the next biennium and is the only piece of legislation that must be passed each session. Therefore, pressures build during the days leading up to its hearing on the floor of the House.
The version of the bill originating in the Senate provides the technical basis for the budget bill that will become law this session; the Senate passed its initial version on March 28. When the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 1 (CSSB 1) passed out of the House Appropriations Committee and was set for a hearing on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on April 6, 2017, the mood around the Legislative Study Group (LSG) office changed.
Within the LSG, I cover the Appropriations process and have followed each of its subcommittees as they worked through their respective articles of the state’s budget for the better part of two months. The other LSG analysts helped provide coverage when I was unable to be in four meetings at the same time, so that we could all have a sense of what was coming. We worked together to finish our analyses for other bills being heard during Budget Week to clear our schedules for the many amendments to CSSB 1 that were filed on Monday, April 3. It’s a good thing we did, because none of us were prepared for the 465-page packet of amendments that was released that afternoon.
Our team knocked it out of the park over the next three days and change. Drawing on the knowledge we have gained from our committee work over the course of the session and the leadership of our executive director Ana Ramon, we prepared analyses on the more than 400 amendments for members of our caucus. The first few hours were rough as everyone adjusted to budget terminology; my familiarity with the terminology, earned by witnessing the entire process, helped to explain concepts and get everyone up to speed. None of us got much sleep, relying on coffee and willpower to push forward, but we got through it.
The actual budget debate on the floor of the House of Representatives went faster than most people expected (see pictures of the representatives in action), without as many points of contention as in prior sessions. Some of this is probably because the budget is leaner than usual due to economic factors, as well as to decisions during previous sessions to reduce important revenue-generating taxes. A little more than 15 hours in, though, the members seemed to reach their limit and the budget passed with no fanfare at all. I had stepped out of the conference room for a minute and actually missed the vote, that’s how anticlimactic it was at the end. Outstanding amendments were tabled for consideration this week, and that was the end of debate.
The work is not done. The differences between each chamber’s budgets must be reconciled during the conference process, and there are plenty of topics beyond the budget to address for the good of the state. All I know for right now, though, is that I loved every stressful minute of it, and am so grateful for the support of my fellow analysts in the Legislative Study Group.