Pete’s Periódico: Funding Senate District 19 Priorities in the State Budget

Originally published on June 10, 2019.

The state budget, the fundamental reason the Texas Legislature meets every other year, is not a typical family budget. At over $250 billion, the budget is incredibly complex––it was an honor to play a small part in its formation and provided a unique opportunity to fight for Senate District 19 priorities.
The $250 billion in the state budget comes from two sources of taxation: state and federal. The state’s share of revenue and funds is $164 billion; another $86 billion comes from federal funds. Combined, the Legislature has approximately $250 billion to appropriate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year which begins September 1, 2019.
And this is Texas: we take fiscal responsibility seriously, refusing to spend more of your tax dollars than we take and even reserving some money for savings. The Economic Stabilization Fund, the state’s savings account, projected balance is over $9 billion at the end of this fiscal year.
The $250 billion covers every need for this state over the next two years: education, disaster recovery, health care, public safety, infrastructure and more. This session, we drastically increased spending on public education by $12 billion, or 20%. We also allocated billions to recovery from Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. The budget addressed other specific needs: property tax reform, CPS, school safety, teacher retirement compensation, mental health, human trafficking, driver’s license customer service, and more.
Texas State Budget by Article
The laborious process for the Texas state budget began in Senate Finance Committee––where I, the lone freshman Senator on the Committee, had the opportunity to serve. During the first three months of session (January, February, and March), the Finance Committee spent three or four days a week in our hearing room, listening to budget testimony from representatives from every government agency and members of the public.
Once we had the input we needed, the Finance Committee divided to smaller workgroups to inspect in further detail the ten Articles of the state budget. Subcommittees of a sort, I was assigned to two workgroups: Articles I, IV, & V, covering General Government, the Judiciary, and Public Safety & Criminal Justice; and Article II, covering Health and Human Services.
Through my work on the Finance Committee and workgroups, I fought for much-needed Senate District 19 funding priorities. The top of my list was funding for a complete renovation of the San Antonio State Hospital (SASH).
SASH, one of nine state psychiatric hospitals, provides inpatient psychiatric treatment for criminal or civil commitments. In general, state hospitals are overwhelmed with demand consistently exceeding capacity; especially maximum security capacity.
SASH is in desperate need of a renovation. When I toured the complex in December, I saw firsthand how the buildings are outdated and present dangers for both patients and staff. The hospital serves millions of Texans; 12 of Senate District 19 counties are in its zone, from Val Verde county to Bexar and down south past Dimmit.
In the end, we appropriated $190.3 million for construction and renovation of SASH. The plan to completely replace the current building with a new 300-bed hospital on the current campus, better serving the population of Texans struggling with mental health that desperately need our help.
Another healthcare victory for Senate District 19 was $13 million in mission specific research formula funding for UT Health San Antonio (UTHSA). UTHSA is a nationally-recognized research leader in aging, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases, serving many of the same counties SASH covers. This change in funding methodology provides stability to UTHSA’s funding, allowing for better planning for long-term research and reliability.
Public safety was another top priority for Senate District 19. In addition to the $800 million Texas spends on border security, we allocated a special $5 million to the Department of Public Safety for a new law enforcement center in Eagle Pass. Senate District 19 higher education also received attention: both Texas A&M ­– San Antonio and University of Texas at San Antonio received funding increases.
It was a privilege to serve as member of the Senate Finance Committee and play a small part on our state budget. It was time consuming and tedious, but rewarding to steward your tax dollars well to fulfill the needs of our state. I hope you agree.
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