Sen. Tommy Williams: Texas Senate to Consider States Budget Next Wednesday

senatorSB 1 Emphasizes Education Mental Health Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN Texas The Committee felt strongly about maintaining our commitment to increasing school funding equity and a quality education said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) Wednesday after the Senate Finance Committee unanimously recommended a new state budget that grows less than 4 annually earlier today. This investment of resources reaffirms that commitment to the courts" said Williams of the Senate Committees 2014-15 Budget which totaling $94.1 billion in General Revenue Funds emphasizes education & mental health priorities.  
Its important for Texas to increase graduate medical education funding to retain doctors in the state after they train here Sen. Williams said.  My goal is to have twice as many residency slots for which we have medical school graduates -  over the next two to three biennial budgets.
Totaling $94.1 billion in general revenue funds the 2014-15 budget represents less than 4 percent annual growth which is less than expected growth in population and inflation. senatorThe budget proposal is the culmination of 45 public meetings and countless hours of committee deliberations. The improved financial health of the state allowed the Senate Finance Committee to make some significant strategic investments. The full Senate is expected to consider the budget next Wednesday. In addition to funding public school enrollment growth the committee appropriated an additional $1.4 billion of general revenue through the Foundation School Program to improve funding equity across the states 1024 school districts. The Legislature is focusing a budget spotlight on mental health services this year as evidenced by more than a $240 million increase to address mental health issues in various state agencies.   For example the budget plan proposes a $226 million increase for community mental health/substance abuse services and mental health waiting list reductions at the Department of State Health Services. The 15-member Senate Finance Committee also targeted other state agencies for mental health budget increases. The Texas Adjutant Generals office would receive $850000 to hire four mental health counselors to help address the needs of returning veterans. Senate Finance members also want to add $15.2 million for the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to provide mental health services grants to local juvenile probation departments.
Protecting the most vulnerable people in our society - children and the elderly - is critically important and we put a lot of new money into the Department of Family and Protective Services to provide them the people and tools they need to do their job in a timely manner  Sen. Williams said. They are truly dealing with life and death issues particularly when it comes to child protective cases. Its important they are adequately funded.
The budget blueprint adds $206.6 million and 1170 full-time equivalent caseworkers to ensure manageable monthly caseloads. Nearly $21 million of the recommended budget increase for the Department of Family and Protective Services would be used to increase caseworker salaries. senatorThe committee targeted nearly $80 million in priority repairs and renovations at state mental health hospitals.  The budget also directs the Department of State Health Services to develop a 10-year plan for psychiatric in-patient hospital treatment. The goal is to provide patient care in least-restrictive environments while also taking  into account the aging infrastructure of the state mental health hospital system. Mental health has been a theme in this budget and it was addressed across multiple agencies in state government Sen. Williams said. Pre-K funding also ranked as a top priority for the finance committee. Approximately  $1.5 billion flows to Pre-K programs through basic formula funding and another $40 million through supplemental funding. Other highlights of the budget include:
  • $746 million increase for higher education including $204 million for community college formula funding and employee benefits
  • $120 million for TEXAS Grants on top of $559.5 million in general revenue in the base bill
  • $6 million in general revenue and 50 full-time employees to address Veterans issues
  • $100 million general revenue for primary care expansion to provide preventive health care to an additional 170000 low-income women
  • $18.7 million (offset by $15 million in savings) for 106 additional employees in the Office of Inspector General to reduce costs from Medicaid fraud and overpayment investigations
  • $80.8 million added to formula funding for health-related institutions including the health-related institution formula for graduate medical education
  • Closing two Texas Department of Criminal Justice  facilities for savings of nearly $100 million. The savings will help fund required correctional health care ($45 million) parole supervision ($10 million) community corrections and diversion programs ($30 million) and other basic needs such as computers vehicles and an electronic management system to maintain the prison system and
  • $139 million in general revenue to increase salaries  to improve correctional officer health care provider and officer retention.
Chairman Williams credited Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) for developing a graduate medical education grant plan to help hospitals lacking medical residency programs. In his first session as Senate Finance chairman Sen. Williams also highlighted increased funding ($35 million) for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to prevent any park closings.  Also proposed is $32 million in general obligation bonds to perform critical maintenance at state parks. The budget will pass to the House after the full Senates approval next week and the final budget will be developed by Senate and House negotiators later in the session. I am happy with what the Senate Finance Committee accomplished but I know there are still some outstanding issues Sen. Williams said. The budget proposal for example does not include any funds for much needed water projects and for tommystate highways. Those issues will be addressed separately later in the session along with small business tax relief. Senator Williams represents Senate District 4 covering all or portions of  Montgomery Chambers Harris Jefferson and Galveston Counties and serves as Chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee and is a member of the Senate State Affairs Open Government and Administration Committees.
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