AUSTIN, Texas – State Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat from Rio Grande City, has explained why he voted against Senate Bill 1, the $217 billion state budget for 2018-2019.
Guillen, a Democrat from Rio Grande City who has spent 14 years as a state lawmaker, said progress was made in some areas. However, he said there were too many negative aspects to the legislation, particularly as it relates to South Texas.
“Although I support the progress made in some areas, I didn’t support this budget because it cut funding to UTRGV but increased funding for other universities, it cut public education funding to some small, struggling public schools but boosted funding for others, it shortchanged retired teacher healthcare and strapped retirees with higher premiums and higher deductibles, it underfunded vital health and human services programs and included another “cost containment” rider which is code for cuts to services for our young, old, disabled, and most needy, and it cut funding for Pre-K, housing, parks, arts, and cultural programs, while doubling-down on the ongoing, half-baked, border security splurge and wild-goose chase. This budget wasn’t bad for some Texas precincts, but South Texas isn’t among them,” Guillen told the Rio Grande Guardian.
SB 1 passed the Texas House on a 135-14 vote. Guillen was one of two Rio Grande Valley legislators in the House to vote against SB 1. The other was state Rep. Sergio Muñoz, a Democrat from Mission.
“Today I strongly voted not to concur on the conference committee report for Senate Bill 1, the state’s budget bill. The Conference Committee Report we voted on today was very different than the budget the House passed in April. The Conference Committee Report spent almost $1.4 billion less than what we originally appropriated,” Muñoz, said, on the day SB 1 passed the House and Senate.
“Only 14 Representatives voted against S.B. 1, and I am proud to have been one of them. There are major cuts happening, and Texas’ most vulnerable deserve much more.”
Funding losses and reductions in SB 1, Muñoz said, include:
- Health & Human Services loses $2.4 billion
- Public schools will lose over $1 billion
- Civic Legal Services loses $5.7 million
- No significant changes to address the rising health care expenditures shouldered by our retired teachers were taken
- The failure of HB 21, an effort to change our school finance system, further reduces public education funding of $1.6 billion
- Acute therapy services only received a 25 percent restoration in the cuts made during the 84th Legislative Session
“Although the budget allocates funds towards mental and behavioral health, Child Protective Services, water development and conservation, and historical preservation, I cannot in good conscience support the cuts in funding to other necessary state programs; especially, when we are leaving well over $11 billion dollars in the “Rainy Day” Fund,” Muñoz said.
“We can no longer afford to keep kicking the can down the road and worrying about the next election cycle or next legislative session. The people of Texas expect us to fix the most pressing issues our families face on a daily basis. When are we going to put people before politics? Barely providing funds to the most vulnerable and then allocating several million dollars towards pet projects, is a disgrace to families dependent on acute therapy care for their child. It is not acceptable to tell our children that this is the best that we can do.”
Muñoz is one of two Texas House members to represent the western end of Hidalgo County. The other is state Rep. Oscar Longoria, a Democrat from La Joya. Although they are both Democrats and although they represent neighboring districts, Muñoz and Longoria had very different takes on the merits of SB 1.
State Rep. Oscar Longoria
Longoria called SB 1 a responsible and balanced state budget, noting that it appropriates over $106.7 billion in General Revenue and $216.7 billion in All Funds. Longoria acknowledged SB 1 was lean but said it continues to put Texans first and prioritizes education, transportation, border security, and mental health.
“We have worked diligently to address the state’s most pressing issues and I am confident that while we may not have funded all programs and agencies to the extent we would have liked to, we did fund them to the best amount allowable, given our budget constraints,” Longoria said. “As the Vice-Chairman of Appropriations, I worked conscientiously to ensure that any reductions made were done so responsibly, keeping in mind the millions of Texas families that are affected by the decisions we make. Therefore, I can present this budget proudly to you, knowing that it has been crafted with the best intentions and addresses the needs of our state.”
Longoria said SB 1 has a number of “highlights” for the Rio Grande Valley:
Longoria said $24.5 million in general revenue (GR) ($56.8 million AF) was appropriated to restore approximately 25 percent of the Medicaid therapy rate reductions implemented in December 2016. He said $300 million has been appropriated to replace or significantly repair state hospitals and other inpatient mental health facilities throughout the state, while $62.6 million has been designated to eliminate the current and projected waiting lists for community mental health services for adults and children. He said that thanks to the passage of House Bill 12, $37.5 million has been secured to establish a mental health community grant program targeted towards jail diversion.
Longoria said he and Chairwoman Sarah Davis, a Republican from Houston, worked to secure $600,000 in the biennium to implement a sentinel surveillance program to monitor emerging and neglected tropical diseases (which includes Zika) through the Department of State Health Services.
The appropriation for the UTRGV medical school is $53.5 million ($11.5 million in formula and $42 million in special item funding). “I am most proud to have secured funding for Graduate Medical Education. Additional $44.1 million in expansion money to increase the number of residencies, which will greatly help our new UTRGV School of Medical and future cohorts,” Longoria said.
Longoria said an additional $71.4 million has been allocated for TEXAS grants in order to cover 92 percent of eligible students. He said $2 million will go towards Texas Education Opportunity Grants (TEOG) to help community college students. Community Colleges received an additional $18 million into Core Funding and $11.4 million into Success Points, Longoria noted. And, an additional $350 million will go towards school retirees. Longoria said he also assisted in appropriating $1 million for the Library & Archives Commission to assist public libraries in applying for E-Rate funding and one-year of support for increased broadband costs at discounted rates. He said this was especially vital for rural communities and schools.
Longoria said as Chairman of Articles I, IV, & V, he secured $3.2 million in GR funding for a Law Enforcement Operations Center in Peñitas. The Law Enforcement Operations Center facility will accommodate 30 Texas Highway Patrol officers and have sufficient space for offices and meeting space. Longoria said he was also able to direct $1 million GR in grants to reimburse first responder agencies (including professional and volunteer fire departments) in the border region for costs incurred while providing emergency response services associated with the execution of law enforcement activities relating to border security. Additionally, SB1 provides $25 million in grants to local law enforcement for bulletproof vests under the Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor, Longoria noted.
“I am especially thankful for the leadership of Speaker Straus and Chairman Zerwas, they did an outstanding job working alongside us in the Texas House to ensure that we all contributed to a healthy, responsible, and fiscally sound budget that continues to meet the needs of all Texans and our growing state,” Longoria said.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa
In the Texas Senate, the vote for SB 1 was 30-1 with state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston, the sole “no” vote.
Like Rep. Longoria, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa was on the conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions of SB 1. Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, gave these wrap-up remarks on the legislative session and the state budget:
“Despite a difficult and challenging session, I am proud of what we accomplished this session for South Texas and the entire State. We had important legislative victories and crafted a balanced budget that takes care of Texans. This session I passed about 60 individual pieces of important legislation and secured millions of dollars for our priorities in South Texas and the Coastal Bend regions.
“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of five Senate conferees on SB 1, the state’s General Appropriations Act, I was involved in countless hours of budget negotiations that resulted in many of the cuts in the original version of the budget being restored.
“In the final budget, I was able to secure $53.5 million for our medical school at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). I was also able to secure first time ever funding for the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems program at Texas A&M- Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), and $40 million for infrastructure to improve access to and from our Texas ports.
“Although a tight budget for the next two years, it is fiscally responsible and invests in infrastructure, border security, healthcare, and our students. The budget will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.”