04.29.11

Texas Democrats have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Special Session, Taxes, Teachers, The Budget, The Economy at 11:13 am by wcnews

Texas Democrats finally have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.  For a generation, if not longer. Whether they realize it or not is an entirely different matter.

Here’s the choice as laid out by on editor in the traditional media, The budget choice Texas Senate Dems face.

Some Senate Democrats fear that Senate Republicans would not fight for this bill, which would use about $85 billion in general revenues, when the House and Senate go into a conference commiittee. So, why vote for this, even if it meets more needs than the House’s flinty budget?

That is a legitimate question, but what is the alternative? They could try to stall the debate into a special session this summer, when teachers could come to Austin every day and raise the devil. But the Senate’s complex rules would not favor Dems in a special session.

Rules then would largely favor the dominant GOP. And they could come up with a budget that is much flintier than the current Senate plan.

If I were in the shoes of a Senate Democrat, I’d take the devil I know. It in’t that this Senate budget is all that great. But it could be as good as it gets.

Frankly there is no choice.  The Democrats best strategy is to stick together, and make the GOP fight amongst themselves, and make them own this budget – lock, stock, and barrel.  The longer this fight drags on the worse the political climate will get for the GOP and the better it will get for Democrats.  The Democrats only power is to keep this bill from coming to the floor.  Period!  Once that happens it’s down to a simple majority and the fight is over.

Why in the world would Democrats go along with Republicans and their plan for the destruction of Texas? The best strategy for Democrats moving forward is that unless the GOP is willing to embrace something along the lines of a balanced approach, then make them own this budget.  Make them change Senate rules, even better, more attention to their abhorrence of tradition and democracy. (Think Wisconsin!)

Any Senate Democrat that votes for this budget without Sen. Steve Ogden and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pledging, on the Bible, to support inclusion of the RDF is no longer worth supporting.

Some Democrats are worried that there’s no outrage over the proposed budget, Where’s the budget outrage, some lawmakers wonder.

Not enough Texans understand the magnitude of billions of dollars worth of budget cuts, said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t think the business community gets it,” he said. “I don’t think the media fully comprehends the magnitude of this problem. I think the average Texan faces a disconnect.

“Unfortunately, many will get it when we leave here. Teachers are getting it now because they are losing their jobs,” he said.

Thousands of teachers will lose their jobs, and thousands of elderly folks will get booted out of nursing homes because of severe budget cuts, Turner said.

“At some point, it will dawn on folks that this problem is for real,” he said.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio believes a “rumbling” is only starting to shake up Texans.

He and other Democrats want the Senate to stand firm. Don’t bring up the budget without assurances that lawmakers will pull out at least $3 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, they say.

It would be better for legislators to fail on adopting a budget before the regular legislative session ends on May 30, they say. Doing so would increase public awareness for the state’s budget problem and more focus for summer special session, Villarreal says.

The Senate budget cuts far less than the House plan. But the Senate budget still cuts public education by more than $5 billion and does not cover the cost of about 170,000 more school children, Villarreal said. The Senate budget still cuts higher education by some $2 billion, which will result in higher college tuition, he said. And it cuts health and human services by about $7 billion, which will force some nursing homes to close.

“There will be seniors – grandmas and grandpas – on the street. We have an obligation to do better,” Villarreal said.

If no one is focused on the budget then a special session devoted entirely to the state budget would be a great way to get Texans to focus on the budget. As Paul Burka recently pointed out.

I was on KXAN’s Sunday morning Politix broadcast and was asked if I thought there was going to be a special session. I said I didn’t know, it was too early to say, but most of the Capitol community doesn’t like special sessions. It’s not just the disruption of vacation plans (NCSL, ALEC). It’s the heat. It’s spectre of thousands of teachers rallying outside the Capitol every day. But it seems almost unavoidable. [Emphasis added]

Not just teachers, but unemployed teachers, laid off because of the disastrous reign of the Texas GOP. Teachers that are not on vacation, or preparing for the upcoming school year, because for they can’t afford a vacation and for them there will be no school next year.

The more the Democrats can do to make the GOP own this budget the better for them, and the better for Texas in the long-run. The sooner the GOP nirvana in Texas becomes a reality, and is seen for what it is, the sooner we can start picking up the pieces.

The House plan, embraced by Gov. Perry, would be disastrous for Texas. It’s so bad that Texans of all political stripes understand that it’s time to raise taxes.

Here’s what former Democratic state Sen. Eliot Shapliegh said recently about the Democrats who voted in favor of the budget in the Senate Finance Committee, Shapleigh decries ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ senators.

“What is coming is awful. $27 billion in cuts will do generational damage to people’s lives. Whatever happens in the Senate, the House will cut more,” Shapleigh told the Guardian.

“All session long, some D’s diligently work on a budget that will wreck their town, all for a birding center or committee chair. Call it building a Bridge over the River Kwai.”

Shapleigh did not mention any names. He did not have to. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Finance passed the Senate version of House Bill 1, the state budget for the 2012-13 biennium. Two Democrats voted with the Republicans, state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Royce West, D-Dallas.

“What you always hear is ‘that’s the best we can do.’ Here’s my answer to that: bull,” said Shapleigh. “What happened in 2006 when $10 billion of permanent deficit was stuck in the budget? What did you do then? Where were you when (former state Senator) Teel Bivins quietly cut the inheritance tax then hiked tuition? Where was your voice?”

Shapleigh, who represented El Paso in the Senate from 1997 to 2010 and served on the Senate Finance Committee, said Democrats have to stand for government by and for the people, not the wealthy few.

“If Democrats now vote for bills that wreck schools, hospitals and nursing homes, who then will protect people?” he asked.

[...]

Shapleigh said a spirited campaign against budget cuts and for investments in the community can pay dividends at the ballot box. He pointed to the defeat of state Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, by Democratic primary challenger Carlos Uresti after Madla voted to allow legislation to come to the Senate floor that led to major cuts in the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2003.

Shapleigh campaigned for Uresti along the border. He believes the cuts in CHIP were the deciding factor in Madla’s defeat. It was, Shapleigh believes, one of the early examples of the Internet providing residents in far flung communities with information they never had before about the votes of their legislators.

Shapleigh said he does not believe voting with the Republicans for a budget that cuts essential services is justified, even if it means a Democratic senator is rewarded by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst with a seat on the conferencing committee that will sort out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

It is widely thought that Hinojosa and West will be named on the conference committee for the budget bill.

Shapleigh believes Dewhurst is a master at putting the Democrats to work on crafting a budget that will ultimately be made much worse when it comes out of the conference committee.

“Why do the D’s do it? Session after session, none ask the most important question: why do we enable a mean spirited, absolutely failed tax system, now with a $10 billion structural hot check, that keeps getting worse?” Shapleigh asked.

He called this the “mother of all deficit sessions,” one that will do generational damage to the state of Texas.

This is the opportunity Texas Democrats have been waiting years for. It’s a way to show the GOP as the cold, cruel and irresponsible party they are. It’s the opportunity to draw that big, bright, contrasting line between the parties. Democrats stand for the people, Republicans stand for the wealthy and corporations.

It’s the opportunity to show that the Democrats stand for poor, working and middle class Texans. For the needy, the elderly, and the mentally ill. For education, for infrastructure and investment in our state. For the people. As Shapliegh said, “If Democrats now vote for bills that wreck schools, hospitals and nursing homes, who then will protect people?”

There is a choice. The choice is whether to stay on the sidelines or to fight for the people of Texas. Let’s hope Texas Democrats finally make the right choice.

2 Comments »

  1. Eye on Williamson » Texas Blog Round Up (May 2, 2011) said,

    May 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

    [...] WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts that it’s finally here, Texas Democrats have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. [...]

  2. Eye on Williamson » Thank You Senate Democrats! GOP will ignore Senate tradition to pass bad budget bill said,

    May 4, 2011 at 8:45 am

    [...] destroy decades of Senate tradtion in order to pass it.  Here’s what EOW posted last week, Texas Democrats have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. The Democrats best strategy is to stick together, and make the GOP fight amongst themselves, and [...]

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