05.18.11

The latest on the budget

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, The Budget at 4:37 pm by wcnews

There is much consternation surrounding our state’s budget today between GOP politicians in Texas.  It is a very fluid situation, which seems to fluctuate between a situation of potential hope, and total breakdown. Right now we seem to be in one of the breakdown phases.  Sen. Ogden is getting frustrated.

As he walked through the west side of the Capitol today, a frustrated Sen. Steve Ogden said he expects a special session.

The House cannot pass a school bill, and it cannot pass a major fiscal matters bill, Senate Bill 1811 — with its hundreds of amendments.

At least get them to conference, the Senate’s finance chief pleaded.

“The fact that neither bills are moving means that (a) special session almost is a certainty,” the Republican from Bryan said this afternoon.

While Ogden certainly isn’t the one to call the shots in the House, he seemed quite sure that SB 1811 wasn’t getting through the House today. He also noted that House members have yet to pass a school bill.

In a somewhat mocking imitation of a House member, he said: “We don’t want to take tough votes because if we don’t get a budget, it’s just going to be bad for us.” [Emphasis added]

He added: “It’s politics at its worst, is what it is.”

With the GOP willing to break tradition on so many issues this session, it’s  instructive that they can’t the agree amongst themselves on how to pass a budget.  It’s safe to assume that many, but not a majority in both chambers, and the governor, are solid behind the wing nut House budget. It’s likely that the rest of the GOP is stuck, needing a better budget, with no way to get there that’s palatable to the wing nuts.

To be clear, this is a fight between the Republicans in Texas, no one else is involved.

Expect to hear more in the coming days about how far away, yet close they are to a deal, Ogden, Straus Differ On Texas State Budget Progress.

As soon as House members re-convened on the floor, House Speaker Joe Straus walked into a closed-door meeting. As members of the press trailed him, the speaker said, “We’re close and we’ve been close, but we’re not there.”

[...]

When asked if he anticipated a special session, Straus said, “We’re not anticipating anything beyond May 30th. We’re going to keep working.”

Either chamber’s budget, at this point, would be a disaster for any Texan that is not rich or a corporation. Here’s the video of Democratic state Rep. Mike Villarreal grilling GOP House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts yesterday on the House floor.

Here’s Villarreal’s statement from yesterday.

“I am pleased to hear that additional revenue will be available to help meet the state’s needs. However, even with the new revenue, the proposed budget would crowd more children into classrooms, force universities to raise tuition, and decimate the health research universities that serve as economic engines. It would be a grave mistake to think the additional money is an excuse for Senators to give up on funding education or for Representatives to give up on passing the non-tax revenue bill scheduled for tomorrow. We are still far short of a budget that our schoolchildren deserve. With the Rainy Day Fund now growing even larger, it is appalling that the Legislature would rather slash support for our children’s classrooms than use a dime of our savings account.”

While the final sticking point, from what the GOP is saying, is on public education funding, there is some real bad stuff, accounting tricks, etc.., in the parts of the budget. Especially Health and Human Services, from Nick Blakeslee Ghost Rider.

As the Morning News’s Bob Garrett reported this morning, the question of funny money came up at last night’s first public hearing of the budget conference committee. The budget only balances if billions of dollars worth of hoped-for Medicaid savings materialize, and Sylvester Turner questioned LBB officials on how likely that was to occur. He never got a good answer.

Among the shakiest of these assumed savings are found in Rider 60 (page II-94 of CSHB1), which calls on HHSC commissioner Tom Suehs to request from the Obama administration a variety of Medicaid waivers–that is, permission to operate outside of the federally designated rules of the program–to allow us to deliver services more efficiently and hopefully save money.

As Rep. Villarreal stated in the video above, it is extremely unlikely that the federal government would give Texas these waivers.

The budget in Texas is far from complete and the back and forth continues.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, asked Pitts if Gov. Rick Perry’s statement Tuesday denouncing dependence on “accounting gimmicks” to balance the budget is bad, very bad.

The usually unflappable Pitts brushed off Gallego’s question but in doing so revealed that Senate budget chief Steve Ogden’s comments ticked him off .

“I’m not going to discount anything the governor says and I’m not going to discount anything that my counterpart in the Senate in the back of the [House] chamber says,” said Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “We’re trying to work out an agreement, Pete.”

Moments later, Ogden appeared in the House chamber.

As reporters circled, Ogden said, “I talked to y’all and I got in trouble. I’m not going to talk to y’all. I’m here to talk to Pitts.”

Ogden then walked up to Pitts near the House dais, and presumably apologized. He wouldn’t confirm it later but their body language suggested yet another emotional high of budget negotiations 2011 is … now … behind us. Maybe.

POSTSCRIPT: Ogden spoke with reporters (yet again!) and said, “I don’t think we’re that far apart on public school funding.”

Geez!! This is getting comical.  The sad part is that our budget crisis in Texas could be solved very easily. Ending some of the $32 billion dollars annually in tax exemptions, especially those that hit the wealthy and corporations.  And using the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund, the way it was meant to be used.

Further reading.
The Texas Legislature is ‘a house divided against itself’.
CPPP Statement on Fiscal Matter and Revenue Estimate.

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