Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams R-The Woodlands, hit back Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal’s “Texas Goes Sacramento” editorial and Texas groups that he contended have misled the publication about growth in the budget.
This is nothing more then an effort to push the middle further to the right. Make no mistake, they passed a cruel right wing budget and we will be paying for the neglect for decades to come.
With the opportunities our state has the budget this session could have have been so much more. But instead it comes up short of what is needed. The cruel conditions that are allowed to persist in Texas, while it’s proclaimed to be a miracle economy, is deplorable. Via CBPP, Texas Model Isn’t All That It Seems.
Texas has the second-highest share of minimum-wage workers of any state. In 2012, 7.5 percent of Texas hourly workers were paid at or below the minimum wage, more than any other state except Idaho and well above the 4.7 percent national average.
In part because wages are low, a large share of Texans are poor. Some 17.9 percent of Texas families live in poverty according to the most recent Census data (2010-2011 average), the seventh-highest rate in the nation and well above the national average of 15.1 percent (see graph).
Twenty-four percent of Texans lack health insurance, well above the national average of 16.0 percent. Many Texas employers don’t providehealth insurance for their workers. Just over half of the state’s non-elderly residents have employer-provided health insurance — the fifth-worst rate among the states. And Texas’ Medicaid program fails to cover many who can’t afford health insurance, yet Governor Perry has rejected health reform’s Medicaid expansion.
Texas invests less than most states in education, healthcare, infrastructure and other public services important to quality of life. Those services have suffered as a result.For example,the state ranks 43th among states in education spending per pupil and is tied for last in the share of its population with a high school diploma.
Texas also spends less on health care, per person, than all but four states and has fewer doctors per resident than all but eight states. In addition, Texas ranks 46th in the nation on highway spending.
Regarding this lets look at what a couple of local state representatives had to say about what went on during the legislative session.
Via Capital Tonight at YNN state Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) gave some of his thoughts on the session that was and the special session. The most interesting part was when he responded to why nothing was done on transportation. He said there is a lot of money involved with three issues – education, water, and transportation – and that, “It’s a big ask to do all three in one legislative session”.
He knows that his party doesn’t want to spend money on these kinds of things. They’d rather not do what’s needed, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations in Texas, and instead neglect the needs of our state. As has been stated before here many times we can’t expect people who think government is the problem to use government to help people.
One of Williamson County’s other members of The Lege, Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park), recently published an Op-Ed in the Statesman, Balancing the Texas Budget.
Over the last two years the Texas economy was the best performing in the nation. The leading sector, then and now, is oil and gas, which not only created tens of thousands of new jobs, but also contributed substantially to state tax collections. The robust Texas economy assisted by low taxes, low regulation and civil lawsuit reform filled state coffers. However, this year — when more than 40 new members like myself arrived at the Capitol — we found that last session’s bills were immediately due.
He then went on to explain all the money the “robust economy” had to use to pay for what it shorted the the previous budget (last sessions bad budget estimate). Much of those “collections” he refers to went to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), aka the Rainy Day Fund (RDF), and none was allowed to be spent on transportation. Of course poverty is never mentioned.
Texas can’t succeed unless it takes care of all of it’s issues, which are more then three. Obviously there’s a better way to do things then our current system that continues to allow so many to struggle and suffer while billions of dollars just sit there. Of course putting a fourth, Medicaid expansion, on the agenda would be way too much. So they shrug that off with and ideological dodge.
It’s much less expensive and much more compassionate to provide health care to those that need it. Especially since the federal government will foot most of the bill and it’s money Texas taxpayers have already paid. Our state cannot succeed in the future without a well educated and healthy populace that can travel around efficiently. Those things can’t be done on the cheap. And it’s easy to see that the Texas budget comes up short.
[UPDATE]: Here’s state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) on a local radio show this week. He appears to be on board with using the ESF to pay for transportation, like SJR 2. He calls it “diverting future tax revenue” that would go to the RDF, but that’s using the money that would have gone into the RDF. But of course when the oil boom ends, which is inevitably will, so will that money for transportation.
The unfolding campaign appears almost certain to match the contours of the legislative debate, balancing the need to keep Texas economically vibrant with a robust water supply against Tea Party-fueled opposition over spending rainy-day money on the multibillion-dollar program.
The effort is expected to include much of the state’s political leadership, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
H204Texas, a coalition that includes chambers of commerce, energy companies, water suppliers and other interests, has already started mapping out a political-style campaign that includes fundraising, media buys, op-ed pieces and elaborate use of social media.
“We’re already in full force,” said Heather Harward, the coalition’s executive director.
SJR1 has strong support among community leaders in the Metroplex. Representatives of the Tarrant County government, the City of Fort Worth and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce testified in behalf of the measure during the Legislature.
“I think voters in Texas understand the challenges that we face with our water needs here,” said state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. “I definitely will speak in my district about it and certainly encourage the consideration of its passage in my district. “
Matt Geske, director of government affairs for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, said the business-based entity plans to promote the initiative actively, adopting a strategy similar to a high-profile effort the chamber used in helping pass a 2009 constitutional amendment to expand the number of tier one universities in Texas.
“I think it’s going to be a similar push for this one to make sure everyone knows why this is important,” Geske said.
But opposition is also taking shape as an array of conservative groups — including Tea Party and citizens lobby organizations — work their formidable email networks to point up what they say are a number of reasons why the initiative should be defeated.
Recycling a major element from the legislative debate, opponents have begun to denounce the proposed use of $2 billion in state rainy-day funds, which lawmakers approved in a separate appropriations bill to capitalize the proposed bank.
Opponents say that putting the $2 billion into a constitutionally dedicated fund enables supporters to avoid having the money count against a state spending cap, which conservatives both in and out of the Legislature have vowed to protect vigorously.
“We’re going to have to oppose it,” said JoAnn Fleming of Tyler, executive director of Grassroots America, which she said networks with more than 300 Tea Party and liberty organizations.
Fleming said members of her organization and related groups plan to work through summer and fall in a “good old-fashioned grassroots effort” to drum up votes against the initiative. “We’ve been successful with that in the past,” she said.
One influential conservative group, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, came out against the proposal during the just-ended regular legislative session, but group President Michael Quinn Sullivan said in an email that “it’s premature to speculate on what we may or may not be doing in the fall on constitutional amendments.”
“A great many conservative groups opposed SJR1 in the legislature,” said Sullivan, who is president of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “We know a lot of folks are going to be talking about it in the fall. If or when we decide to engage in that issue, we’ll engage.”
Chuck Molyneaux of McKinney, 73, a retired software developer who heads the North Texas Citizens Lobby, said his organization is reaching out to its allies in the Tea Party community to oppose the measure and the proposed use of rainy-day funds.
“We’re going to do our best to keep it from being passed,” he said. “This one just reeks of smoke and mirrors.”
H2O4Texas has corporate sponsors out the wazoo. The corporate side wants to make sure that everyone is aware of the supposedly good “economic impact” of doing something about water. The tea party opposes it because of where the money comes from. They’d be for it if the money came from cutting what they deem unnecessary government like public education.
Missing mostly from the conversation, as usual, is what, if any, benefit the taxpayers will receive, other then the so-called economic benefits. Hopefully the plan will keep taxpayers in drinking water, without ra raising our taxes too much. The corporate thirst for Texas water may be unquenchable.
Remember the canard of Bush years, compassionate conservatism? Well if there ever was such a thing, it is no more in Texas. The original need for the term was for framing purposes because “conservatism” is inherently mean, or compassionless. In Texas we know that compassionate conservatism in an oxymoron. Thankfully no everyone is taking the budget the Texas legislature passed sitting down, Groups blast Texas lawmakers over budget deal.
A group of unions, education groups, disability rights activists, social-justice interfaith groups and health care providers and advocates said Monday that lawmakers at best deserve middling to poor marks for their two-year, $197 billion state budget.
Spokesmen for the Texas Forward coalition denounced the budget package for its tax “giveaways” and for not putting back enough of the $12 billion in spending cuts approved by lawmakers in 2011.
Among the casualties are expanded and full-day prekindergarten programs, remedial instruction for failing students and formula funding of public schools, none of which were funded at pre-recession levels, they said.
“There’s a lot of celebration of mediocrity around this budget,” said Phillip Martin, political director of Progress Texas. The group advocated for Medicaid expansion, election reform, more education funding and an end to what it called Gov. Rick Perry’s “corporate gifts” to political donors through the state’s economic development and cancer research funds.
Martin noted that at least $8 billion of the nearly $12 billion in available state savings would be left unspent under the budget measures reaching the Republican governor’s desk.
There will be an $8 billion rainy-day balance, even if voters this fall approve a constitutional amendment that would trigger use of $2 billion for a water infrastructure fund. Under the budget package, an additional $1.9 billion of rainy day money would be used to reverse a school payment delay and pay for recovery from the 2011 wildfires and last month’s fertilizer plant explosion in West.
Eva DeLuna Castro, senior budget analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said lawmakers could have spent billions more to undo last session’s cuts. Instead, she said, they obsessed over holding back most of the rainy day money and were afraid to vote to exceed a constitutional limit on spending growth of non-dedicated state taxes.
“This doesn’t get us back to where we used to be, and we could have gotten there,” she said.
She said lawmakers have budgeted too little for Medicaid by up to $2 billion. Between that and the hoarding of rainy day dollars “it’s like a middle-aged person trying to fit into the clothes they wore in high school,” she said.
Eric Hartman, director of governmental relations for the teacher union AFT Texas, said lawmakers undid $3.4 billion of the $4 billion cut in 2011 from the state’s main school aid program but left “expansion grants” for pre-k programs in the ditch. They put back only $30 million, after cutting $200 million last time, he said.
As EOW has said before it is cruel that a state with so much wealth can continue to let so many suffer unnecessarily. But jus as bad or worse is why they won’t join with business and local governments and try and find a way to expand Medicaid. Their hate for President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have so overwhelmed them that they can’t find a way to work out a solution to help those in need. Health Officials Decry Texas’ Snubbing Of Medicaid Billions, (click here to listen).
The state of Texas is turning down billions of federal dollars that would have paid for health care coverage for 1.5 million poor Texans.
By refusing to participate in Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, the state will leave on the table an estimated $100 billion over the next decade.
Texas’ share of the cost would have been just 7 percent of the total, but for Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature, even $1 in the name of “Obamacare” was a dollar too much.
In other words they’re doing it out of spite.
If your country has no national health insurance but your citizens don’t have the stomach to watch the uninsured die on the hospital sidewalk, something’s got to give. So there’s a national expectation that doctors and hospitals will provide these uninsured populations mostly uncompensated care — and so they do. But few in the industry think this is the way to operate.
Tom Banning, chief executive officer of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, lobbied hard but unsuccessfully for Medicaid expansion. He’s beside himself with frustration.
“These people don’t choose to get sick. When they do, they’re going to access our health care system at the most inefficient and expensive point, which is the emergency room,” Banning says. “And it’s going to cost the taxpayers, and it’s going to cost employers a lot of money to care for them. And we’re going to be forgoing billions of dollars that the feds have set aside for the state to pay for and provide this care.”
This is not about money — if it were, Texas would be taking it. This is about Obamacare. It’s widely believed in Austin that Perry is seriously considering another run for president — this time without the “oops.” His base is Tea Party Republicans across the country. While it might cost $100 billion for the privilege, Perry is going to be able to stand in front of them and say, “I said no to Obama when he tried to bribe my state with health care coverage for the poor.”
And since it’s widely believed that these would-be Medicaid recipients probably don’t vote or, if they do vote, they vote for Democrats, there’s no political price to pay for snubbing them.
Still, there are some Republican legislators who feel bad about not taking the money.
Rep. John Zerwas tried to craft some sort of compromise that never mentioned Medicaid expansion, but he couldn’t get it out of committee — because for Texas Republicans, the very words “health care” now carry the stink of Obamacare.
Zerwas points to “the political realities of having to run for office again in two years, and how much explaining would I have to do as a candidate around a vote that could very easily be framed as a supporter of promoting Obamacare.”
Texas Republicans aren’t worried about the reaction from the left for voting down Medicaid expansion; they’re worried they might get a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate if the words “health care” pass their lips on the floor of the Legislature. That is, if they’re not already a Tea Party candidate, which many are.
For at least the next two years and probably longer, Medicaid expansion in Texas is dead. What this all means is that more than a million Texans who might have received health care coverage will remain one serious illness or one bad accident away from bankruptcy. And an estimated $100 billion that would have been spent buying health care in Texas will now go somewhere else.
Because of ideology there can be no compromise on an issue that almost everyone, except for those on the extreme right, agree should happen. It certainly seems that compassionless conservatism and spite will keep government in Texas cruel for the foreseeable future.
Today is the last day, day 140 of the 83 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, Sine Die! But Texans will likely be subjected to at least one special session before the 84th convenes. Over the weekend legislators finished up legislations needed to avoid a special session by passing a budget, needed water legislation, and tax cuts. Al the things Gov. Perry said they needed to accomplish to avoid a special session. Lawmakers get busy during the closing hours of legislative session.
The major components of a state spending plan fell into place Sunday as $2 billion in state water funding won legislative approval and the House signed off on a Senate-passed $197 billion budget to run state government for the next two years.
The flurry of votes cemented a carefully negotiated budget compromise that appeared in doubt just days earlier and completed lawmakers’ most fundamental task as they headed into the last day of work before adjourning Monday.
Whether the state’s citizens-legislators go home after that, however, remained in question. A special session that could keep them in Austin for up to 30 more days remained a strong possibility as lawmakers face legislative overtime to deal with redistricting and other potential issues.
Working through the second day of a weekend session, House and Senate members plowed through a host of remaining issues — both big and small — as they neared the end of a 140-day biennial session that saw the introduction of more than 8,000 bills, most of which fell by the wayside.
To paraphrase Don Corleone: “Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in . . .”Wayne Slater from the Dallas Morning News has tweeted that two well-placed sources say that a special session on Texas redistricting will start Tuesday, immediately after sine die.
While we appear to have avoided the need for a special session on the budget and other major priorities, the buzz now is that there will be a special session on redistricting. If that’s all it’s about, then there’s nothing to worry about. But special sessions are about what Rick Perry wants, and to a lesser degree what the people who have Rick Perry’s ear want. One of those people is David Dewhurst, who needs as much of a boost to his wingnut credentials as he can muster, and he’s urging Perry to call a special on all the wingnut business that went unfinished.
Dewhurst almost certainly feels like he needs a special session to score some wingnut victories to help him win his next primary, especially after his loss to Ted Cruz. of course, just because Dewhurst is asking doesn’t mean Perry will answer. He has his own stuff to deal with, and he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for himself, as he always does. But it’s hard to see how calling a wingnut special hurts Perry, especially if he is running for something, in 2014 or 2016. Despite progress made in this past week, there’s still a lot of unfinished real business, and nay failures there definitely opens the window for a special. If that happens, then all bets are off. I remain very concerned about this. Burka has more about Dewhurst.
We might glimpse Perry’s own as-yet-unannounced political plans in his decision on the agenda, which he controls along with the decision whether to call lawmakers back at all.
“If Governor Perry is still considering running for either reelection in 2014 or for president in 2016, it would be especially advantageous for him to include abortion-related legislation in his call,” said Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones.
Abortion bills that didn’t pass in the regular session “would significantly reduce the number of abortions that occur in Texas in the near term, a reduction that would be celebrated by pro-life groups in Texas as well as in other states such as Iowa and South Carolina,” he said.
Jones said Perry could help Dewhurst in an expected 2014 primary challenge by including abortion, welfare-applicant drugtesting and college concealed-carry legislation.
But Perry may want to carefully pick his topics. Not all Republicans are enamored of all the most conservative issues, and an ugly, unsuccessful session isn’t necessarily a résumé-booster.
Which means none of this has little to do with anything that matters to most poor, working and middle class Texans. Just that narrow minority of people that show up and vote in the Texas GOP primary. While 62 House wing nuts are a calling for Gov. Perry to add GOP platform items to the special session call the majority, 88, are not.
The GOP wants to blame the Democrats for this legislation failing to pass in the regular session, but that’s just not the case. The GOP has shown in the past that they’re willing to change the rules to suit them, (see redistricting and voter ID in the 82nd legislature). Mostly these issues didn’t come up because the House leadership didn’t want them to, and that’s the main frustration of those 62 who signed that letter. Maybe the House leadership will change it’s mind in a special. We’ll have to wait and see once the session is called, and then what is put on the agenda by Gov. Perry. But it’s unlikely the needs of Texans will be put at the forefront.
That’s what Texas Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said after Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed SB 346, aka the “dark money” bill, on Saturday. As Kuff says it was not a surprise.
Perry and Sullivan are of course shedding crocodile tears – people don’t intimidate Sullivan, people are intimidated by him and the millions of dollars he has at his disposal from anonymous donors. You can see from Noel Freeman’s comment in my earlier post that there were issues with this bill that would have caused problems for organizations that don’t cause the kind of trouble that Sullivan’s do, and perhaps because of that the veto is for the best. Let’s just be clear on the prevarication in Perry’s and Sullivan’s words, and let’s hope someone tries again with a better bill in the next session.
This bill was more a fight amongst the funders of the GOP primaries in Texas. So, for the most part, had little to do with Democrats, just GOP infighting. More from the Texas Tribune, Perry Vetoes “Dark Money” Bill.
Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed a divisive measure that would have forced some tax-exempt, politically active nonprofits to disclose their donors. That effectively kills the measure for this session; lawmakers stripped a similar amendment from an Ethics Commission reform bill on Friday.
The bill’s author, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said Perry’s veto was “embarrassing,” and added that there “doesn’t seem to be a real strong groundswell” for a veto override, though he didn’t rule it out.
“This is a sad day for integrity and transparency in Texas,” Seliger said. “Gov. Perry’s veto of SB 346 legalizes money laundering in Texas elections. The governor’s veto is ironic since money laundering is illegal in other endeavors.”
House lawmakers passed Senate Bill 346, a “dark money” bill that would’ve applied to nonprofits falling under 501(c)(4) of the tax code, earlier this month. They did it in a hurry, leaving in a provision many of them disliked that exempted labor unions in an effort to deny the upper chamber its request to revisit senators’ original vote to pass it.
The measure has faced ardent opposition from far-right activists like Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose conservative group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is a 501(c)(4). He has argued that SB 346 is an unconstitutional attempt to harass protected donors.
“Texas Gov. Rick Perry today saved Texans from the threat of harassment and intimidation simply by virtue of their contributing to non-profit entities that speak out politically,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The governor’s veto of SB 346 sends a welcome message, that the Lone Star State won’t tolerate infringements on clear constitutional rights or chilling limitations on political speech.”
Supporters of the legislation “will be subject to threats and intimidation donors to Tea Party groups, home-school organizations, right-to-life advocates and civil rights causes,” Sullivan wrote in an op-ed published in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.
But advocates say that if such nonprofit groups are going to play on the political field, they should be subject to the same rules as other campaign donors. In the 2012 election cycle, groups that used the 501(c)(4) designation spent more than $300 million to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Certain groups keep scorecards and continuously bombard the internet. All that’s fine, it’s what this process is about,” state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said during House debate on the measure. “The problem occurs when these groups wade deep into the political process … and use a loophole that keeps their donors secret.”
Lawmakers talked a big game about improving transparency this session, but when push came to shove, they did next to nothing to advance it.
Key proposals never even got close, like bills to strengthen reporting of lawmakers’ financial interests, prevent the quick revolving door that sends former legislators into the lobby, and stop the practice of allowing elected officials to draw down both their state salary and their pension.
Others got within spitting distance. As of Friday morning, a reform bill for the Texas Ethics Commission still carried amendments the House passed by wide margins to put lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms online, to require groups to report spending on a speaker’s race and to force lawmakers to disclose their contracts with government entities.
But House and Senate negotiators stripped those off in conference committee — even while they added provisions to keep more information, like their home addresses, private.
“Behind closed doors, the conferees mounted a strategic assault on transparency,” said Craig McDonald, director of the left-leaning money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice. “The stage was set to make significant progress on ethics and open government reform. The true nature of the politicians reared its head at the last minute.”
A couple of smaller-scale ethics advances are hanging to the omnibus Ethics Commission bill awaiting Perry’s signature, including a provision to require railroad commissioners to resign if they run for another office and another that would force those who post political ads online to disclose who’s paying for them. Lawmakers who become lobbyists would also have to wait two years before donating their leftover cash to sitting members by way of campaign contributions.
Lawmakers have also passed a separate measure that would call for an interim study — a common maneuver to kick controversial reform measures down the road — on the state’s ethics laws and reporting requirements.
While lawmakers took some steps forward this session, “the Legislature still has miles to go to end the ethics abuses,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Texas director for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.
At the end of the day, McDonald said, “politicians can’t be trusted to clean up politics.”
As has always been the case, it’s extremely unlikely that this will change as long as the legislature regulates themselves.
One main sticking points this session is that it’s hard for a bunch of people, who believe they were sent to The Lege to cut the budget, instead having to pass a budget where there is money to spend. Paul Burka points to some of that.
The problem with the freshman class of 2013 is that they had no interest in the big issues that face the state. They were more interested in preserving the Rainy Day Fund than in assuring adequate water for the future. The truth of the Rainy Day Fund is this: There is so much money going into the Fund it will remain healthy through the next budget cycle (assuming that the price of oil remains relatively stable.)
The one caveat is that the problem isn’t just the freshman class of 2013, there are more tea party’ers in the House then that.
There’s quite a bit about what happened in the House this session in this TirbLive conversation earlier in the week.
Branch seems very willing to increase spending on public and higher education, infrastructure, and try to workout a deal on Medicaid. Martinez Fischer spoke quite a bit about the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to work together, behind close doors. And that’s what showed up in the House this session, the House Democrats and contingent of moderate Republicans that worked together to get things done. (That is if the budget actually passes).
Angered by the demise of key bills considered priorities by conservatives, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared in an interview Thursday that Gov. Rick Perry should quickly force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session after adjournment Monday.
Dewhurst wants to revive a bill that would require drug tests for welfare recipients, one that would permit students with concealed-handgun licenses to carry guns inside campus buildings and a package of bills that would further restrict abortions.
His request also includes political redistricting; school vouchers, also known as school choice; an end to the state’s windstorm insurance program “without a rate shock”; and a more restrictive constitutional cap on state spending.
The state’s second-highest officeholder said he made the request to Perry on Wednesday. He said he told Perry “that there were a number of bills blocked by Democrats and we need to come back in a special session and pass them.”
“I think he’s seriously considering doing that,” Dewhurst said. “I obviously don’t speak for Gov. Perry. I’ll let him best speak for himself.”
Josh Havens, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said he was unaware of Dewhurst’s request but indicated that the governor will not announce any intentions until after the regular session ends Monday.
“We’re still in regular session,” Havens said. “It’s too early to be talking about the probability of a special session.”
None of the bills key to a budget deal have reached the governor’s desk yet. Both chambers need to vote by Monday on a unified version of SB 1, the main budget bill. The Senate needs to agree to the House changes made to SJR 1, which would ask voters to create a water infrastructure fund. Budget leaders in both chambers need to resolve their differences on HB 1025, a supplemental budget bill that includes a $2 billion appropriation for that water fund as well as other spending pivotal to the budget deal.
Some major tax relief bills remain unresolved. House and Senate members need to find middle ground on HB 500, the major franchise tax relief bill of the session. Same with HB 213, which deals with a tax exemption for small businesses, and HB 7, which includes $630 million in refunds to residents and businesses from the System Benefit Fund, an account set up to help low-income Texans pay their utility bills. HB 800, which provides tax credits for business spending on research and development, is headed to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.
It’s hard to tell at this point what the political calculus is. It seems pretty obvious there the far right of the Texas GOP that wants to come back for a special session so they can get their ideological agenda passed. And they believe the easiest way to do that is to wreck the current negotiated budget. They believe that Joe Straus shut down their agenda in the House. But there’s also been several key issues left out that nobody wants to address in any special session like transportation funding and Medicaid expansion. Monday can’t come soon enough.
Breaking a budget impasse with days left in the 2013 session, House and Senate members approved key elements Wednesday of a two-year spending plan that boosts education funding and addresses a looming water shortage.
House members voted 130-16 on a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, that would create a state revolving bank to fund billions of dollars in local and regional water projects over the next half-century. The House vote went well beyond the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure.
Across the Capitol, the Senate voted 28-3 to give final approval to a companion supplemental budget, House Bill 1025, that includes a $2 billion drawdown from the state’s rainy-day fund for the proposed water bank.
The Senate-passed measure also includes $200 million of the overall $3.9 billion in increased public school money proposed in the overall agreement negotiated by House and Senate budget writers last week.
The budget compact, which is spread over several documents, has been bogged down for nearly a week over infighting and distrust between the two chambers. House members were forced to suspend rules to defer consideration of SJR1 until Wednesday after coming perilously close to a Tuesday night deadline that would have killed the measure.
Among the spending in the bill: $2 billion for the state’s water plan, $185 million for wildfire suppression, $1.75 billion to reverse the already planned delay of school payments in August, $30 million for veterans’ college tuition subsidies, $10 million for the Student Success Initiative, $175 million in bonds for campus construction, $450 million for roads in successful oil field areas, $5 million for repairs and renovations in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and $5 million for repairs at state parks for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The allocations in this measure include drawing nearly $4 billion from the rainy-day fund in addition to about $2 billion in spending from dedicated tax money and general-purpose revenue.
Soon it will be in Gov. Rick Perry’s hands.
The budget package also includes $1 billion in tax and fee reductions. The proposal falls short of Gov. Rick Perry’s demand for $1.8 billion in tax relief, and the governor has not indicated whether the level in the budget would meet his threshold.
Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, has threatened to call a special session if lawmakers don’t address his priorities of water, transportation and tax relief. Budget issues, gun legislation and redistricting have also been cited as potential topics for a 30-day special session.
The Texas Tribune has a much more on what transpired yesterday, House and Senate Pass Measures Key to Budget Deal.
After days of jockeying and one-upsmanship, the Texas House and Senate each approved measures Wednesday evening critical to passing their next two-year budget.
“The results of these two bills together is a good conservative budget, and it’s something we can all be proud of,” said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
With just five days left in the legislative session, both chambers needed to at least tentatively pass separate measures by midnight as part of a larger budget deal agreed to by leaders from both chambers last week.
The Senate voted 29-3 for House Bill 1025. Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, voted against the measure.
The negotiations over how exactly to approve the two measures exposed deep tensions between the House and Senate as lawmakers on both sides pushed for the other chamber to move first out of concerns that the other side might not keep its word.
Ultimately, Williams brought up HB 1025 at 5:45 p.m. While senators were still discussing that bill, the House began debate on SJR 1 just before 8 p.m.
The House’s Tea Party contingent put up a noisy fight against SJR 1, arguing it was made up of accounting gimmicks and was fiscally dishonest. The chamber’s budget writers — at times exasperated — said they were letting Texas voters decide if they wanted to spend the money to alleviate the state’s water problems.
House lawmakers shot down two amendments — one by state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and another by state Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano — to try to put constitutional limits on water funding from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
“We’re fundamentally changing the way we’re going to do state budgeting going forward,” Perry argued.
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, agreed, adding, “We’re expanding the role, the scope and the size of state government unnecessarily.”
House Speaker Joe Straus praised his chamber for passing the measure.
“The House took an important step today toward securing the reliable water supply needed for continued economic growth,” Straus said. “In the coming days I expect the House to conclude a very successful session by taking the final votes necessary to address our water needs, pass a balanced budget, improve public education and make state government more transparent and efficient.”
The budget still has several hurdles to cross before it crosses the finish line. Here’s the late word from the Texas Tribune last night.
Despite looming deadlines, the House postponed on Monday a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would allow voters to decide whether to set up a fund for water infrastructure projects. The budget deal conferees reached on Friday hinges on that legislation, which must be approved by the House on Tuesday.
Here’s more about where the fault lines are:
As House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts expressed optimism that the Legislature would approve a budget in time to avoid a special session, others were still expressing uncertainty as a pair of critical votes were set to take place Monday.
The 2014-15 deal that budget conferees reached Friday hinges on the approval of Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would ask voters to create a fund for water infrastructure projects, and House Bill 1025, a supplemental appropriations bill for the 2012-13 budget. SJR 1 is on the House’s Monday calendar, while HB 1025 is on the calendar in the Senate.
“I didn’t hear any outcry of negative attitude,” Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Monday afternoon after a House Republican Caucus meeting on the budget deal. He expressed confidence that the Legislature would avoid a special session on the budget.
“I said if you’re not going to vote for it, please let us know and we’ll try to clear up any questions,” he said.
The House will need 100 votes to approve SJR 1, which means the measure will need support from some Tea Party Republicans and Democrats.
“We committed to being for it, but we’re not sure where we are right now,” said House Democratic leader Yvonne Davis of Dallas. She said Democrats are still working to confirm that their request to add $200 million to public education has been met, before they’ll confirm whether they’ll vote for SJR 1.
Some Tea Party legislators also expressed concern about the deal.
“I am opposed to the infrastructure and water plan, not because I’m against water — because who could be against water? — but because I am concerned about investment in commercial banking,” said state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. He warned that the $2 billion could be doled out “based on political corruptions.”
“I have not seen [the budget] completely, but I am very concerned. We’ve spent too much money across the board,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “I want to make sure there’s no budget gimmicks, that’s a big part of my platform.”
Pitts said the budget conferees have worked to wean the Legislature off “budget gimmicks,” by stopping the diversion of $400 million in dedicated revenue to certify the budget.
House and Senate leaders struggled Monday to protect their complicated deal on the two-year state budget.
The two chambers’ budget chiefs clashed over whether a tax-relief package should rely heavily on rebates of a fee on electricity bills.
House Democrats demanded assurances that extra money for public schools will be added to an emergency spending bill.
And a leading conservative group urged House members to reject a constitutional amendment creating a structure for a new infrastructure bank that would help finance water projects.
“This is a very complicated and interrelated puzzle,” said Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, referring to about a half-dozen or more bills that comprise the budget deal.
House Republicans went behind closed doors for a Q-and-A session on the deal during Monday’s lunch break.
On Friday, Senate budget chief Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said giving back about $630 million of the electric fees was “a very important component” of the budget deal.
On Monday, though, Pitts, R-Waxahachie, called that “a deal that [Williams] made with two House members that were not” part of the group that negotiated the budget compromise. Budget leaders later met with Williams, who has made a priority of the proposed rebates of the fee, known as the System Benefit Fund.[Emphasis added]
House Democrats held their own private huddle. Afterward, caucus leaders said members want assurances that the Senate will add a last dollop of money the Democrats won for public schools, $200 million, to one of the must-pass bills.
Democrats’ only leverage to influence the budget negotiators lay in their ability to stop a constitutional amendment creating the water fund and a draw down of rainy day money, both of which needed two-thirds approval.
When they prevailed, Democrats didn’t crow, pointing out that the public school funding still was short of the amount cut. They also gave Republicans their due.
“It’s not perfect. It is significant. It does represent what can happen when both sides are willing to listen to each other and work together,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. “Republicans and Democrats are putting their best foot forward.”
Of course, budget dealing isn’t over. With a week to go in the special session and details still to be worked out, it all could fall apart.
As we went from deal to no deal on Thursday and Friday, finally a budget deal emerged. In a session that many thought the budget would be a much easier then usual, because the state had a surplus, it didn’t end that way. Texas has many needs that have been neglected over the years, and even with a surplus, there wasn’t enough to make up for that neglect and put back funding that was cut last session. And there was little will, in the majority, to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to make up for that.
Today was a huge win for the Democratic members of our Texas Legislature: they held firm in budget negotiations and restored $3.9 billion in funding to public education.In 2011, the Republican supermajority slashed $5.4 billion from our public schools, resulting in teachers losing their jobs and school children being unable to gain a competitive education. Restoring those funds has been a priority for Democrats this session. Today, Democrats held firm and struck a deal that restores $3.9 billion, which is the best that 55 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate can realistically do.
Pragmatically, this is the best we can do with Republicans in charge of our state who still seek to shortchange our children, and represents practically the highest dollar amount discussed to be restored to public education this session.
Of course $3.9 billion is better then $2.4 billion in education. And the Democrats deserve much credit for sticking to that. But the truly sad part is that a state with so much money right now, is hoarding so much of it while there are still so many in need. Millions without health care, so many hungry and suffering. It’s likely that we’ll start next session with a surplus too, another low estimate for this biennium from the Comptroller.
No matter how much money Texas has next session, we’re likely to be further behind two years from now. Because our state elected leaders continue to neglect funding what can truly make a state better off for all. Education, infrastructure, health and the welfare of those in need. Instead they will focus on tax cuts and keeping taxes low for those who have so much.
With time running out, legislative negotiators on Friday forged a two-year spending plan that includes an additional $3.9 billion for education, offsetting deep cuts imposed in public school funding two years ago.
The spending package, spread over three pieces of legislation, also calls for a total 3 percent pay increase for state employees as well as commitments to $2 billion in long-range water funding and at least $1 billion in tax relief.
Members of both Houses have just over a week to ratify the 2014-15 budget before lawmakers draw the curtain on their 140-day legislative session on May 27.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has threatened to call members back to work in special session if lawmakers don’t meet his demands on water, transportation and tax relief, is reserving judgment on the budget until it passes the Legislature, said a spokesman.
“We will take a look at the bill and make a decision on it once the Legislature sends it to us in its final form,” said deputy press secretary Josh Havens.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the number two member of the House Democratic leadership, called the budget a “a good compromise.”
“I wish the Legislature would fully restore the money that was slashed two years ago but this is a compromise and a positive development and I believe I can support this budget,” said the Tarrant County House member. “While it’s not perfect, it’s a big improvement.”
In contrast to the 2011 session, this year’s proposed budget reflects a statewide economic rebound that gave lawmakers a robust $101 billion in tax revenue, money used to at least partially roll back the cuts from two years ago.
Williams said the budget also calls for a “very significant increase” of about 8 percent for public-funded colleges and universities and about 16 percent for health-related institutions. Community colleges will get a “richer funding formula” under the proposal, Williams said.
Cuts in taxes and fees will total “just north” of $1 billion, Williams said. Perry outlined tax relief as a major priority in his State of the State Address in February, calling for a total package of $1.8 billion.
The plan would also restore reductions in the popular Texas Grants student assistance, providing enough money to reach about 83 percent of eligible students, said budget writers.
Under the proposed salary package, the nearly 220,000 state employees will get a 1 percent pay boost in 2014, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2015.
As part of the multi-faceted budget process, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would create a revolving bank to fund local projects under the state water plan.
The $2 billion to capitalize the fund would come through a drawdown from the state’s nearly $12 billion rainy day fund, proposed in a supplemental budget that will be considered next week.
The commitment to water salvages what appeared to be a doomed effort to fund the 50-year state plan to help Texas confront what planners say is a looming water shortage in the nation’s second most populous state. A water funding bill was killed by a point of order in the House and reviving the proposal was a top priority of budget negotiators.
Leaving $10 billion in the ESF while so many needs still go unmet is wrong. If budgets are moral documents then this one is still wanting.