On January 15 the Texas House released a first draft of the state budget that falls short of even a bare-bones level of funding that would maintain current state services. It would take about $102 billion in general revenue to maintain current services, and the initial House proposal for 2016-2017 comes in about $3 billion below that, at $98.8 billion. For public education, the bill purportedly would cover the cost of enrollment growth, but it would rely heavily on the use of increased local property-tax collections, and it would not add new general revenue to reverse past funding cuts, let alone enhance formula aid for school districts.
One positive provision at least can be noted. This initial version of the budget maintains the state contribution rate for the TRS pension fund at 6.8 percent, the level to which it was increased last session as part of an overall package deal to strengthen the pension fund. Regarding the TRS-Care health plan for retirees, however, the proposal does not include additional state funding needed to keep the program solvent without big premium increases or benefit cuts. Nor does the initial budget draft address the increasingly unaffordable increases in health-insurance costs and erosion of benefits borne by active school employees.
Overall, the proposal leaves $14 billion in general revenue available but as yet untouched, not to mention another $11 billion in the Economic Stabilization Fund reserve. The biggest question of the 2015 session therefore remains as described in stark terms by the late Texas AFT President Linda Bridges just last week, on the eve of the session: Will lawmakers use available funds to address neglected needs or to grant more tax giveaways to special interests?