AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Legislature officially began spending money Tuesday with final passage of a $6.6 billion emergency bill to avert a deadline that would have left Medicaid providers unpaid for treating patients.
The House provided no drama or dissent before unanimously approving the measure that also covers $1.7 billion previously owed to public schools.
Budget-slashing lawmakers postponed the schools payment in 2011 as a trick to balance the books. Reversing that gimmick in this spending bill was not imperative — some lawmakers wanted to tackle that separately — but House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts emphasized that the state needed to make good on $4.5 billion in Medicaid obligations now.
"We will not pay our providers the day after tomorrow if we don't pass this bill," said Pitts, R-Waxahachie.
The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.
The massive Medicaid I. O. U. stockpiled up for the same reason lawmakers in 2011 kicked the school payment down the road: to help close a $27 billion shortfall. Passing a balanced budget is the only bill the Legislature is constitutionally required to approve every two years.
Yet as lawmakers approach the halfway point of the current 140-day session, they're still not done spending money on the current two-year budget before hammering out the next one. Other spending bills called supplementals — which add to the price tag of the lean $173.5 billion budget that Legislators carved in 2011 — are expected to be ironed out in the next month.
Among the outstanding debts facing the state are an estimated $155 million spent fighting wildfires that engulfed the state in 2011. Democrats also will likely make one last push to claw back some of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools two years ago.
Last month, the Senate Finance Committee adopted a proposed $1.4 billion hike in school spending in the first clear signal that Legislature may pour money back into financially ailing districts.
A busy budget week in the Legislature is expected to continue Wednesday when that same committee could send its proposed budget for 2014-15 to the full chamber.
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