Texas Budget Negotiators Start Talks, With How to Ease Cuts, Handle Abbott’s Veto Pen Big Obstacles

AUSTIN -- House and Senate budget negotiators downplayed rivalries and made a lavish display of courtesy Monday as they began talks on the session's only must-pass bill - a state spending plan for the next two years.At their first public meeting, only two of 10 members of the House-Senate conference committee spoke.The two chambers' point persons exchanged pleasantries at what probably will be one of very few gatherings by all 10 lawmakers under the glare of cameras, lobbyists and reporters.Most of the nitty-gritty work of reconciling differences in about $218 billion of spending, including federal funds, will be done in huddles between one senator and one House member.Sen. Jane Nelson, the Senate's chief budget writer and lead negotiator, predicted the panel "will make Texas proud" with the compromise it forges."These budgets are much closer than a lot of people would have you believe," she said.Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican, noted that both bills would increase funding for Child Protective Services and mental health; keep a surge going in highway building; and maintain state expenditures on border security and public schools.House Appropriations chief John Zerwas curtsied back."The citizens of Texas are going to be the big winners" as a result of the panel's work - not one chamber or the other, he said.Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, echoed Nelson's laudatory remarks. The two have worked in the past on health and human services policy.Though she has more seniority, they also served together on the past three budget conference committees.Other panel members have a lot of experience: All but two have served as budget negotiators before, with Democratic Rep. Oscar Longoria of Mission and Republican Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston the only newbies.Adjusting for the two chambers' big differences in achieving more "headroom," which allowed them to ease cuts in a tight year, they're only about a half-billion apart in spending of both general-purpose state revenue and funds of all types.  Continue reading...

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