06.03.11

Public being ignored as GOP uses special session to punish

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Public Schools, Special Session, Take Action at 10:21 am by wcnews

To understand why the “deal” on school finance that came about at the end of the regular session was so bad, all one has to do is watch the House Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday.  It is one of the benefits of the special session, at least this scheme will get some sunlight.  And that would not have been the case if this special session hadn’t been forced.

The school finance scheme that the GOP came up at the end of session never got a public hearing or went through the legislative process.  It wasn’t then, and still isn’t now, fully understood what this scheme will do to public education in Texas.  It was a compromise, cobbled together behind closed doors, by GOP members of the House and Senate Conference Committee on the 2012-2013 budget.

While many will haggle over the winners and losers in the special session, the best thing for Democrats that can come out of this is for the GOP to use it to enact more draconian cuts, and to punish others in an attempt to get back at Democrats.  Here’s how R.G. Ratcliffe puts it regarding what happened on Monday when it was realized that a special session was unavoidable.

Immediately the spin began. Democrats had hoped that killing the session would make Perry look bad, but it didn’t. He appeared on Tuesday as the steely-eyed sheriff who had called lawmakers back into session because one senator kept them from getting the job done. Davis met reporters in the hallway outside of Perry’s office after his news conference to deny that her motivations were political. “I’m trying to make a statement that cutting $4 billion in public education funds is unacceptable,” Davis said in defense of her actions.

She’s right. The cut should be unacceptable. But most of the state’s pro-education groups were ready to accept it. Teacher groups had been relieved that they had gotten out of the session without legislation to ease a district’s ability to fire or furlough them or make them work in larger classrooms. Most public school administrators were willing to accept the cuts as more reasonable that the originally proposed $8 billion slaughter. Save Texas Schools had had an anemic rally on May 21 that convinced many Republican lawmakers that the public at large did not care as much about public school funding as their Tea Party constituents did about cutting it. And Raise Your Hand—noted for the Tommy Lee Jones television commercial about how Texas ranked 44th in the nation for per-pupil spending—ended the session asking its members to support public education by backing the Senate’s $4 billion in cuts. It was thin gruel, but the Texas education establishment was ready to eat what was put in front of them and dare not ask for more.

Before the regular session ended, Perry seemed disinclined to have a special session on congressional redistricting. Now there is a plan on the table, and it isn’t pretty, undercutting Democrats and minimizing Hispanic population growth. U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, who’s been on the enemy list since he held up $830 million in EduJobs for Texas schools because he had correctly assumed the GOP leadership would use the money to cut state spending for schools rather than enhance the educational pot of gold, is in the cross-hairs. And instead of going into federal court with no plan for Texas, Democratic and Hispanic groups likely will have to challenge an existing law—a harder hill to climb.

Redistricting and sanctuary cities might have occurred in an expected July special session on TWIA, but probably none of the education legislation would have come up again if not for the session-killing filibuster.

Most of that is on point, except for the steely-eyed fluff. There a many reasons why the GOP wanted to avoid a special session, but mainly because the longer the topic of billions in education cuts are in the news, the worse it is for all of them. But maybe, just maybe, it could allow a few of them to see beyond ideology to how these cuts will effect real Texans. Like the money in the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund, Public’s ideas not being included.

Lawmakers invited the public to share ideas about school funding cuts Thursday, but GOP leaders rushed to approve the legislation without incorporating any of the input and rebuffed all urging to spend more from the rainy day fund.

[...]

GOP leaders said it would be impossible to get the two-thirds legislative vote needed to spend more from the $6.4 billion that’s uncommitted in the rainy day fund, even though a former lawmaker who helped create it in the 1980s testified it was meant specifically to ensure public education funding didn’t get cut during hard times.

“The original intent of the rainy day fund was to deal precisely with the circumstances that we are in right now,” Paul Colbert, a former Houston legislator and public education committee chairman, told the House Appropriations Committee.

Colbert said the savings account never was intended to be used to deal with natural disasters — for which Gov. Rick Perry has insisted it be saved.

“It was intended specifically to make sure that we would not make cuts to public education,” Colbert said.

Colbert’s testimony and the objections raised by other Texans against massive cuts to public education aren’t likely to matter as lawmakers are racing to approve legislation necessary to allocate those cuts to public school districts.

“It seems as if the public input is more for public appearance rather than for us to listen to their comments and make changes based on the merit of their comments,” Turner said.

It’s pretty clear that the GOP is taking this special session personally. While they may blame Democrats, it’s their own fault for purposefully slow walking the budget that got it to a point where it could be killed by an hour and fifteen minute filibuster. Not to be outdone GOP state Sen. Steve Odgen has gone off the rails.

After hearing several witnesses urge lawmakers to use the reserve Ogden pointed his finger and told them to forget it.

“Hope is not a plan,” Ogden said shortly before the bill passed the committee.

Ogden tried during the regular session to rally support for spending the reserve fund, but was fiercely opposed by Gov. Rick Perry and other Senate and House Republicans.

“I’m saddened that we gave up so easily,” said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Ogden also said he doesn’t believe what he called threats of “draconian” cuts to local schools.

“We’re not cutting school budgets,” Ogden said. “We’re just not giving them as much money as they think they are entitled to.”

Critics say that’s the same as a cut and note the plan doesn’t’ cover the cost of projected enrollment growth in one of the fastest-growing states in the country.

It’s obvious from that kind of uncharacteristic outburst that Ogden needs some time off. Athough Brains and Eggs see if differently, The sociopathy of Steve Ogden, (in relation to Ogden’s quote’s above).

Now that’s a demonstration of sneering contempt that borders on — no, actually goes ahead and crosses over to — sociopathy. Anybody who knows Ogden is well aware of his opinion of everyone who hasn’t reached a station in life similar to his own. And keep in mind that this is what passes for Republican moderation in Texas (Ogden was the only Republican senator opposing the carry-guns-on-campus bill). If he had not run again, there would likely be someone much, much worse in that seat.

The GOP members in the legislature, out of spite, appear to be unwilling to use this opportunity to work with the people of Texas to pass an improved school finance plan that will benefit all of Texas. Instead they appear to be steamrolling Texas school finance back to massive inequality and therefore the court room.

Most of the people appearing before legislative committees Thursday opposed the bill.

“It undermines the education for a future generation of Texan children — and it’s not OK,” Houston parent Sue Deigaard said. “My children are growing up to be taxpayers in this state but, unfortunately, my children will have to bear a burden because they will have to pay for more kids that will be incarcerated because they didn’t get an education.”

Several school superintendents in property-poor areas complained their high property tax rates simply are subsidizing school districts with low tax rates — even though they get much higher revenue per student.

But some wealthy school district superintendents support the bill.

“We think it’s a reasonable and rational plan given the realities of the state revenue system,” Highland Park Superintendent Dawson Orr said on behalf of his district and the Texas School Coalition.

Ah yes, the GOP loves playing class warfare. It’s time for the rest of us better join the battle.

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