House Speaker Tom Craddick's radio ad doesn't suit the head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.
House Speaker Tom Craddick's radio ad doesn't suit the head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.
Gov. Rick Perry isn't saying, directly, whether he'll sign the bills that got through the special legislative session. But he did add those issues to the Legislature's agenda, and he hasn't said anything snarky about the versions that came out. Bills waiting for his signature include a 23 percent increase in judicial pay and legislative retirements (including Perry's, as a former House member), new restrictions on when cities, counties and other governments can use their powers of eminent domain to condemn and purchase private property, and legislation that lets phone companies get into the television business without the restrictions that currently apply -- through contracts -- to cable TV companies. The cable guys say the phone companies won't be fettered by local franchise agreements and instead will be able to get statewide franchises that don't necessarily include sometimes costly extras like local access channels and local programming. The cable folks, as we've noted, intend to go to court to try to get themselves and their competitors on level ground. Meanwhile, a new report from Texans for Public Justice puts numbers to the legislative arms race between those factions. In its latest Lobby Watch, that group says the phone companies spent between $5.4 million and $10.9 million into 209 lobbyist's contracts. They spent $1.6 million -- through political action committees -- during the 2004 election cycle that put the current Lege in business. Of that amount, $176,000 went to Perry's campaign. San Antonio-based SBC Communications alone paid 123 lobbyists between $3.3 million and 6.8 million. The company's PAC gave $126,200 to Perry, and contributed a total of $1.2 million to him and other candidates in the 2004 election cycle. The cable companies and trade groups, on the other hand, paid 44 lobsters between $890,000 and $1.7 million, contributed $358,776 through PAC spending that included $25,000 to Perry. The phone companies got stiffed during the regular session and through the first of two special sessions, but look who's squawking now. TPJ's full report is online at its website: www.tpj.org.
Teachers at the bottom of the state's pay scale actually lost money during the special sessions this summer. State budget writers gave them a raise during the regular session, but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry and wasn't replaced when the rest of public education funding was restored this summer. Perry signed an education bill this month -- replacing the public education funding he vetoed at the end of the regular session -- but in the veto-resurrection process, some teachers lost a pay raise. The state budget passed during the regular session changed school formulas to allow a pay increase for teachers making the state's minimum pay. Most districts add to the minimums. But for those that don't -- and for those who tie pay directly to the state schedule -- the increase in funding would have meant an average raise of 2.76 percent. A first-year teacher's minimum would have risen to $24,910 from $24,240. Number-crunchers at the Texas Education Agency figured a second-year raise at about 1 percent; teachers would have received the first amount starting this month and the second raise in a year. In replacing the public school funding that Perry vetoed, lawmakers changed some formulas, and in the changing, took away the increase in minimum teacher pay they had promised.
Texas is losing a state representative next week. Rep. Melissa Noriega, D-Houston, is giving the chair back to her husband, Lt. Col. Rick Noriega of the Texas Army National Guard, who was called up to serve in Afghanistan after the election. He came back at the beginning of the month and will take his spot back August 27; she plans to return to the job she gave up at the Houston ISD while she was subbing in the House. The two are also doing a few quick fundraisers with that outgoing-incoming bit as a peg. They've got funders set for early September in Houston and in Austin. • Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, announced he'll run for reelection. He's the chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee and sponsored the telecommunications bill that finally passed during the second special session. King's announcement is a counterpoint to rumors that as many as three dozen House members won't be back. That might happen, but such talk is more pessimistic at the end of a special session than a month later. • Austin lawyer Mina Brees will run for the 3rd Court of Appeals seat held now by David Puryear. She's a Democrat, involved in civic stuff, and the mother of a couple of athletes: Drew, the quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, and Reid, a baseball player at Baylor. Her brother, Marty Akins, is a former UT quarterback who ran for governor, losing in the Democratic primary to Tony Sanchez Jr. • Donna Howard, a former trustee with Eanes ISD in Westlake (an Austin suburb) is reportedly considering a challenge to Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin in HD-48. She wouldn't be the first. Andy Brown, a lawyer and former legislative aide, is running and several other tire-kickers have been seen on the lot. • Duffy Doyle Crane, an Austin lawyer and Democrat who'd been considering a run against Baxter, dropped out. She sent an email to friends and supporters saying the time isn't right for her. But it also implies she'll be looking at public office again in the future.
Lobby spending, the end of a state agency, and virtual textbooks at UT Special interests of every stripe spent $953 million on state legislators and other state officials in 2004, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, which tracks these things. They said that there were five lobbyists and spending of about $130,000 to work on every state lawmaker in the country, on average. As usual, Texas was among the big shots. Of the 42 states for which they had numbers, we ranked second with total lobby spending of $162.1 million, or just over $895,000 per lawmaker. They didn't get the money, understand (or at least they weren't supposed to), but the people trying to win their support or their opposition spent that much in the effort. And that's the least they might have spent. Texas law requires lobsters to report their salaries only vaguely, showing a range where the numbers fall. The Center used the low number in the range for each report. There were, on average, eight lobbyists for every state lawmaker in Texas. You can look over the details at www.publicintegrity.org. • The State Board of Educator Certification is being folded into the Texas Education on September 1, and Associate Commissioner Patricia Hayes will run what will now be a new division at TEA. SBEC's board will stay in business, but its rules and certifications still have to clear the State Board of Education. • Students taking required courses on U.S. and Texas politics at the University of Texas at Austin are getting out of about $60 in textbook costs. Their textbook is online. And it's free to civilians, too, at http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu. They've been tinkering with it for a couple of years, with good results, and say one advantage is that the book can be edited or amended or expanded without new printings each time.
If you've been watching closely as the Legislature ran aground, you've been spun enough. We'll make our autopsy report brief. The highlights: • The Texas Legislature can't resolve big problems except under duress. With no orders from the state's high court to fix school finance or else, they got stuck. It has always been this way: Texas lawmakers needed prodding from judges to reform state schools and state hospitals and prisons and, four times now, public education. • Politicians are, for the most part, faithful to their principles. As the saying goes, they dance with who brung 'em. A significant number of these legislators ran as tax-haters, and they continued to hate taxes when they were presented with an opportunity to vote for them. They wanted to cut property taxes, and many of them wanted to cap increases in appraised values, but they suffered from vapor lock when asked to approve the new or higher state taxes that would make those local revenue cuts possible. In particular, when the size of the property tax cuts fell, the pains outweighed the gains. • Personalities can poison a project. House Speaker Tom Craddick, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Gov. Rick Perry were unable to agree among themselves at almost every point in the drama, and without consensus among those three -- or, instead, a healthy fear of a common fate for failure -- it was unreasonable to expect the other 179 people with votes to come along. As the session drifted during the last ten days, they resorted to finger-pointing and made the state Capitol seem, at times, like the world's most extravagant day care center. • The price of the failure to act is small unless the status quo is unbearable. You'll see exceptions in the March primaries and in races where lawmakers are trying to win promotions -- say, from the House to the Senate -- but most lawmakers won't be punished for the summer follies. Voters are more likely to react to action than to inaction, and what the Texas Legislature just produced was the status quo. We've heard endless variations of this line: Better no bill than a bad one. School finance now rests with the Texas Supreme Court, which heard the case in early July and can rule whenever the judges feel like it. They could produce a decision this fall or next spring or later. If they make their decision this fall, Gov. Perry could call another special session -- this time with the pressure of a court decision and a deadline from the high court for a solution -- either before or after the March primaries. Calling one before the primaries would put some lawmakers under pressure to get a result, and could interrupt anyone trying to bring attention to their efforts to unseat incumbents in the legislative or executive branches.
Gov. Rick Perry ended the special session by asking the Legislative Budget Board to do what can be done in education and other areas without the help of the full Legislature. And he said he won't call lawmakers back until they find "the collective will to finish." He wants the LBB -- a panel that includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker, and four members from each legislative chamber -- to approve $295 million in funding for textbooks and to increase minimum pay for about 8,000 teachers. That pay raise was included in the budget written during the regular session, but Perry vetoed public education spending in the budget to spur lawmakers to fix school finance. They didn't do that, but they put the public education spending -- with some changes -- back into the budget. One of the changes took the raise away from teachers who'd been promised more money. Perry wants the LBB to spend $200 million on increased reimbursement rates for nursing homes, and $13 million to raise the monthly allowance for patients in those homes to $60 from $45. That's what they used to get; the amount was cut during tight fiscal times two years ago and the current Lege didn't restore the funding. The money is used for things like toothpaste and other personal needs. Perry wants as much as $76.2 million for trauma centers. And he asked for $48.5 million to fund operations at the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy at Texas A&M-Kingsville and the Texas Tech Medical School in El Paso. That's a shot at Speaker Tom Craddick and other House leaders who denied that funding so far this year, and Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (see his letter, elsewhere in Notebook) both want the money. In Perry's words, "it is high time the state kept its commitment to these institutions."
Funding for a pharmacy school in Kingsville and a medical branch in El Paso has proven elusive in the Texas House, so Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is forcing a showdown next month at the Legislative Budget Board. The buildings are built, but funding for operations has been stuck in the House, where it was used at least twice as trade bait by House leaders seeking votes from Border Democrats. The Democrats gave up their votes, but didn't get what they were after. Dewhurst pushed the idea in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, sent as the Legislature ended a second failed special session on school finance. And Perry included a call for the funding in his requests to the LBB.
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