Here’s a short synopsis of the failure of anything worthwhile to have gotten done last session. Ogden is trying to make himself out as some sort of wise arbiter but it just doesn’t wash. Leaders blame ideology for failure to fix budget.
Lawmakers entered the 2011 legislative session facing a chronically under-performing business tax, a school finance system in need of a revamp and pointed questions about billions of dollars in tax exemptions while the state faced a massive budget shortfall.
They could enter the 2013 session the same way, having failed to come to agreement on any of the three, potentially guaranteeing themselves a repeat of the budget woes that bedeviled the regular session’s 140 days.
“Because of the ideological nature of this session, and because we have a bicameral Legislature, we didn’t get a lot of the big reform ideas on the table and debated and resolved,” said Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. “And that’s probably my biggest disappointment – that we basically kicked the can down the road in almost every area.” [Emphasis added]
Instead of revamping the business tax structure or taking aim at tax exemptions, lawmakers cut billions of dollars in spending and cobbled together accounting maneuvers and spending delays to meet a massive shortfall and tide them over until 2013. They took a limited amount of money from the state’s rainy day fund, but leaders expect to dip into it again in a big way when they return in regular session in 2013.
Legislators also pushed back a looming gap in transportation funding by allowing issuance of the last of voter-approved bonds. They made some cost-saving changes in Medicaid, but will need federal approval to realize more savings.
On school finance, they are working in a special session to pass a bill to allow $4 billion less through the next two years than required under current funding formulas.
“The governor and the tea party deserve the credit or the blame, depending on one’s point of view,” for the lack of reform, said Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, a former Ways and Means chairman. “I believe the majority of Texans know we have a very serious tax code problem, and they want and expect us to address it.”
Ogden, the Senate’s chief budget writer, blamed the session’s ideological nature – particularly in the House, where revenue measures must originate and which had a fresh GOP supermajority – for the lack of fiscal reform.
The November election “was widely interpreted as a mandate to focus on spending and the size of government, so I think there were a lot of people that were elected who didn’t think they were sent here to fix the problems that they didn’t know about,” Ogden said. “At the end of the day, the House wasn’t interested. I think they were in political survival mode the whole session and were not interested in … any reform initiatives that might be controversial.” [Emphasis added]
Ogden is putting the blame at the feet of the House – in particular those on the far right – for the failure to pass a respectable budget. Despite the fact that it was Lt. Gov. Dewhurst who stabbed him and the rest of the Senate in the back. He then goes on to lamely attempt to shift the blame from the GOP for ending decades of Senate precedent, Republican, Democrat say Senate’s 2/3 rule is dead. But Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte sets him straight.
“We became, without trying to, more like D.C. than I wanted to see us,” Ogden said. “I think that November election was driven on what was going on in D.C., and I think a lot of the debates that we had on the Senate floor were reflections of the bigger problems that Washington, D.C. has. I think to a certain extent, both the House and the Senate are beginning to act … in more partisan ways than we’ve done in the past. And to the extent that D.C. is more partisan than Texas, we became more like D.C. and less like our tradition.”
Ogden initially didn’t blame either side for the destruction of the two-thirds rule. But when pressed, he said Democrats bear the responsibility. “I think they overplayed their hand. I think they blew the rule up by not exercising more discretion on when to use it,” he said.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, responded in graphic terms.“Oh, yeah — ‘She got raped because she was wearing a short skirt,’” she said. “You’re blaming the victim. We’re using the tools that are available during the regular session.”
On one thing, she and Ogden can agree.
“There is no two-thirds rule,” she said. “It’s only two-thirds when it’s convenient.”
As said here before Ogden started out the session saying and doing some things that made him seem like a fair arbiter. But once Dewhurst pulled his trick Ogden figured he couldn’t beat them, so he joined them. The truth is that no one, Ogden, House Speaker JOe Straus, or Dewhurst tried very hard to push an alternative agenda. None of them had the will or the “stones” to take on Perry and the ideologues to fight for what is right. But they certainly are will to use them as a convenient excuse for their failure to lead.