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Texas House budget writers take action on bill

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas House budget writers sent a $4.8 billion supplemental spending bill to the full chamber Monday that mostly settles a massive Medicaid tab lawmakers knew would come due when they shortchanged state health spending two years ago.

The supplemental bill covers unpaid expenses in the current budget cycle. It's the first order of business in every legislative session before lawmakers begin haggling over the next budget.

Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed a sigh of relief when the emergency spending bill swiftly passed. He told lawmakers before the vote that failure to put the bill on Gov. Rick Perry's desk by early March would mean that doctors and hospitals would not get paid.

"I would have slept better last night if I knew we were going to do that," Pitts said.

Nearly all spending in the supplemental draft covers various Medicaid costs that the Legislature put off paying in 2011. They did so in the face of a $27 billion shortfall that left lawmakers looking to reduce spending as much as possible.

Two years later, a resurgent Texas economy has given the Legislature a far rosier financial outlook as lawmakers map out a state budget for 2014-15.

Despite unanimous passage in committee, Democrats have indicated they won't let majority Republicans send the supplemental bill to Perry without a fight. The House Democratic Caucus has called for tacking on $5.4 billion in restored public education spending that was cut in the last session.

The supplemental bill now awaits action by the Texas House.