AUSTIN (AP) - A dispute over how to pay for steroid testing of Texas public high school athletes has stalled the bill in the final weeks of the legislative session.

Although House and Senate lawmakers promise a testing program will be approved, a key senator has branded as a "ticket tax" the House plan to pay for the program with a 25-cent fee on tickets to basketball and football games.

The House sponsor, however, says the fee is so small most people wouldn't object and noted it could raise more money for testing than the Senate is calling for.

Both sides have approved their versions of the random, mandatory testing program and must negotiate the financial difference before the session ends May 28. If approved, Texas would have the largest high school steroid testing program in the country, targeting at least 22,000 students a year.

"We've stalled. We'll work it out," said Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, sponsor of the Senate version. "The House wants the ticket tax. We've got the money (to pay for it)."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has made the testing program one of his top priorities for the session. The Senate plan would spend $4 million each year, with the money coming from the state budget.

"There's no reason to put a tax on people who go" to games, Dewhurst said. "We'll work it out. It's a good bill and at the end of the day, it's going to save lives."

Rep. Dan Flynn, the Van Republican who filed the bill in the House, said his research shows the 25-cent ticket fee could raise $4.8 million per year and possibly allow the state to test even more students.

"I don't like the Legislature to control the price of a ticket," said Flynn, who predicted easy passage once details are worked out. "But it's a volunteer activity (sports) and such a little amount of money on the price of a ticket."

But the House version could make school districts dig deep into their budgets to cover costs up front before they start collecting the ticket fee once the 2007 football season begins. Texas has about 733,000 athletes at about 1,300 public schools, and both the House and Senate bills would require mandatory testing.