By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — House and Senate negotiators on Thursday approved a $172 billion Texas budget for the next two years, sending the plan to the full chambers for a weekend vote.
Budget leaders expect House and Senate votes on Saturday, which would then send the massive plan to the governor. But the plan makes the expenditure of $37 billion for basic school operations contingent on lawmakers agreeing to new distribution system before the session adjourns Monday.
Agreement on new school funding formulas has been an obstacle so far. A lack of an agreement on how to distribute the school money by Monday would almost certainly require lawmakers to return to Austin for a special session over the summer.
Even though the budget conference committee agreed to spend more on public education, school operations would still be underfunded by about $4 billion due to them under current law.
Elsewhere, the budget makes $15 billion in cuts compared to current spending, which doesn't account for population and enrollment growth.
Medicaid spending, for instance, would not pay for more than $4 billion expected to be needed for projected enrollment growth.
Lawmakers crafted the budget with a revenue shortfall of more than $15 billion. Some analysts said the expected shortfall was closer to $27 billion to maintain current service levels for a bigger population.
"This budget is balanced for the next two years and at the end of the day, that's a pretty extraordinary accomplishment, considering the situation that we found ourselves in," said Sen. Steve Ogden, the Senate's chief budget writer.