by Brittany Sharp, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
As a social work intern with the Legislative Study Group (LSG), I am the staffer assigned to the Texas House of Representative’s Appropriations Committee. In this role, I have a front-row seat to the process by which Texas establishes its bi-annual budget.
The most surprising thing I have learned is that the legislature does NOT make most of the budget decisions. Most decisions are made before session even starts in communications that take place between agencies and the state’s Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and which result in development of a draft appropriations bill. The legislature’s decisions then happen during a 3-4 week period during the legislative session, in which subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee hear agency requests, ask questions, and get clarification on agency needs. Subcommittees then have “formal meetings” to decide whether to grant those requests. To do this the committee members use decision documents like the one below:
During this phase of the budget process, each day I would have to understand and analyze the content of 3-4 meetings that happened at the same time. Some of these were recorded, allowing me to watch them later, but some were not. My fellow LSG staffers – fellow social work students – were an incredible help during these few weeks. They helped cover meetings for me, took notes, and helped me keep up with what was going on in each subcommittee. These were extremely long days, as after subcommittees finished meeting, sometimes in meetings each lasting 3 hours or more, I would need to update my own version of the decision document to reflect what changes to the budget had been preliminarily adopted that day.
Once subcommittees have made preliminary decisions on all budget requests, these decisions must be adopted by the full Appropriations committee. At that point, the LBB drafts a new version of the budget that reflects all the decisions made. That version of the budget then gets voted on by the Appropriations committee; once approved, it heads to the House floor.
There is about a week of time between when the budget bill is voted out of committee and when it is heard on the floor of the House of Representatives, for a vote by all members of the House. During that week, with the help of LSG Executive Director Raul Lopez, I wrote a 28-page analysis on the House version of the budget, to inform and guide all legislators who are members of the LSG. I am not over-estimating when I say that I spent 100s of hours working on that document.
Since the first day of stepping foot into the Capitol, one hears about the horrors of “Budget Week.” Hundreds of pre- filed amendments to the budget bill are filed from the members on the House floor, long debates are had and all-nighters being pulled are the contents of these horrors. I am here to tell you that all of these horrors are true; the silver lining being, your boss buys you food while it is happening.
The LSG had to endure our first all-nighter of Texas’ 86thlegislative session, due to House members filing 308 amendments to the budget bill. This all-nighter consisted of minimal amounts of sleep using a routine to switch off when to use the sleeping bag, many cups of coffee, and lots of teamwork. I led our team of policy analysts over the course of 3 days to analyze all 308 amendments and while many of these amendments were ultimately withdrawn, we worked a combined total of 500+ hours to make sure they were all analyzed. The Texas House debated the budget and the proposed amendments for nearly 12 hours, resulting in the passage of a $251 billion bill funding critical agencies and programs across our state for the 2020-2021 biennium.
Some amendments I was excited to see adopted were:
Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) amended the budget to add funding for the Department of Family Protective Services to begin investigating sexual abuse allegations at detention centers
Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) amended the budget to protect Medicaid recipients from having their services cut as the result of agency cost-saving efforts
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) amended the budget to measure the success of border security outcomes and provide accountability to how the state spends those dollars
However, the budget process is not over, as the Senate has adopted their version of the budget. Next week, these two versions of the budget bill will go to a conference committee. This is where members of the House and the Senate meet together to negotiate and come to agreement on finalizing budget details. I am both excited and nervous, as I know this process will involve money taken from some things and put into others.
If you are interested you can view the most recent version of the House budget here.