The Budget

May 22, 2015, 08:48 AM by Melissa Harman

Finally, the verdict is in on the conference committee report: Both chambers still have to vote on the budget, but the agreed-upon template from the committee members was released yesterday and more was revealed today. More details continue to dribble out in small amounts at a time; the decision-making continues to be a very fluid and iterative process. And remember that it’s not over ‘til it’s over. Items can be added that increase or decrease “final” decisions made so far, agreements can fall apart before the final legislative step, and then there are always the governor’s potential vetoes, which can occur up to 20 days after the end of session.

That said, as of today, here’s what the conference committee has done:

So good news on the formula—although all universities and health-related institutions are still not up to the desired 2001 levels of funding, this increase is a step in the right direction.

We asked specifically to maintain our hospital base, and the Legislative Budget Board recommendations to the Legislature did just that. In turn, the Legislature did also.

With a 42 percent increase in enrollment and a scarcity of space for student group learning and study, the passage of funding for a new interprofessional educational building is a welcomed gift from the Legislature. Although House and Senate will conference on this issue, UTMB should receive a minimum of $59 million for the building and hopefully up to the $68 million amount recommended by the House.

Budgeteers have put more emphasis on formula funding and less on new or increased special item funding—few institutions received more than a small portion of their requests for special project funding; some received none. Conference awarded UTMB $8.2 million, which is designated for the construction of an infectious diseases treatment facility for UTMB Hospitals. In addition, Rep. Wayne Faircloth was instrumental in getting statutory language adopted that was necessary to allow the Health and Human Services Commission to distribute federal or other funds to UTMB for infectious disease treatment. Funding for TDCJ’s Correctional Managed Health Care program is directed to both Texas Tech and UTMB; UTMB receives about 80 percent of the funds because of the number of units operated and because UTMB treats those patients requiring higher acuity of care (i.e., hepatitis C, cancer, surgical cases and others). For operation of the units and medical, mental health and hospital acute care, the Legislature appropriated $84 million over the next biennium. This will bring funding in line with what is currently being spent in correctional health care, since there is a shortfall this biennium.

Although we had requested raises for correctional health care unit staff, the original recommendations from both House and Senate contained no designated funding for this area. Thankfully, as conference went forward, conferees championed that cause and their efforts resulted in an allocation of $60 million for staff salary increases over the biennium.

With funding issues moving toward closure, the House and Senate will work Saturday and Sunday to complete the packed calendar of bills awaiting passage or rejection before the stroke of midnight June 1.

Remember to go forth and do good—and to do it well!