As chair of Finance, state Sen. Jane Nelson unveiled Senate Bill 2, the Senate appropriations bill which outlines more funding for border security, education and healthcare while offering an estimated $4 billion in tax relief.
With the state’s bustling economy, Sen. Nelson said it was important to return money to the state’s residents. “We have an obligation to return a large portion of those dollars to the people who have worked hard,” she said in a press conference Tuesday morning in Austin. “We want people to actually feel it.”
Sen. Nelson called education a priority, outlines plans to keep current formula funding levels while adding funds to cover enrollment growth estimated at 168,000 in the next two years. The bill calls for doubling the investment in children with autism and adding career courses for middle school students. “This budget will prepare students for the modern workplace,” she said.
Other highlights of Senate Bill 2 include:
• $3 billion in property tax relief.
• $1 billion in franchise tax relief.
• Ending highway funding diversions, a one-time dedication of $1.2 billion from the motor vehicle sales tax to the state highway fund and anticipates $2.6 billion over the biennium from Proposition 1.
• Providing $815 million for border security – more than the previous 7 years combined, including $19.7M for SWAT team expansion, $10M for a high altitude airplane with high-definition and infrared cameras, and a $10M increase in grants to local law enforcement.
• Maintaining current education formula funding; covers enrollment growth for an estimated 83,000 additional students in 2016 and 85,000 additional students in 2017; adds $100 million for math and reading training for K-3 teachers; and adds $25 million for career counseling for middle school students.
• $2.6 billion in general revenue across state government for mental health programs, including an increase of $20 million for Texas Veterans Initiative; $12 million for jail and emergency room diversions; $18.4 million for crisis mental health; and $14.5 million to keep waiting lists at zero through the 2016-2017 budget cycle.
• $50 million for women’s health, building on the commitment from last session.
• $60 million for graduate medical education towards goal of a 1.1:1 ratio, ensuring there is a residency spot in Texas for every Texas medical school graduate.
• $205.1 billion appropriated in all funds – up 1.5 percent from the current $202 billion 2014-15 budget.
• $101.470 billion appropriated in general revenue – up 6.6 percent from the $95.17 billion in 2014-15.
The bill is known as the base budget, reflecting a starting point from which the Senate will build its version of the 2016-17 state budget, according to a news release. The Texas Constitution requires legislators pass a two-year budget during the 140-day session held every odd-numbered year.