The Week in the Rearview Mirror

After limping back to Texas after his failed presidential run, Gov. Rick Perry reasserted his role in Texas this week by unveiling his “Texas Budget Compact,” a pledge to oppose any tax increases, cut spending, eliminate agencies, preserve the Rainy Day Fund and end accounting tricks used to balance the budget. Perry called on legislators and state officials to sign the compact, although he insisted he was not going to be tracking which politicians had signed and which had not.

Texas officials continue to assert that they will provide uninterrupted funding of the Women’s Health Program without cutting services or coverage for low-income women. The state’s plan to take over the program on Nov. 1 is based on the federal government’s funding of the Medicaid-financed program through the end of October, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has already notified the state that it will only fund the program through mid-June. Ninety percent of the costs of the program have been borne by the federal government, but it has cut off its support since Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from the program.

Planned Parenthood is responding in part to funding cuts by trying to consolidate some of its branches. This week, the boards of three branches — North Texas, Central Texas and the Capital Region — are voting on a proposal to merge into Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which would cover 58,000 square miles and have an annual budget of $29 million. The goal would be to streamline operations and wield more political clout.

As the Sunset Commission goes about reviewing agencies and making recommendations to the Legislature, one agency is attracting an inordinate amount of attention: the Texas Lottery Commission. Religious groups are suggesting that merely reworking the commission and its rules is not enough, contending that the lottery has not fulfilled its original goals. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is requesting that the commission be abolished. Staff recommendations from the Sunset Commission seek increased oversight of the agency and suggest the adoption of a comprehensive business plan.

The House Committee on Redistricting turned its attention to the State Board of Education this week, questioning the size of each representative’s district and whether 15 board members is enough to represent the entire state. State representatives have constituencies of about 150,000, while SBOE representatives districts' average more than 1.6 million residents. Districts 1 and 15 in West Texas in particular caused concern with their large footprints, but members of the board were critical of the idea of increasing the size of the board; they would instead like to see an increase in staff support.

A new study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Higher Education Research noted some problems with Texas’ plan for improving higher education. The plan has been in place for more than a decade and has resulted in increased enrollment and a higher rate of degrees being earned. The group pointed out, though, that with Texas trying to accomplish so many goals, it may not have the resources to achieve them. Texas’ focus on funding seven emerging research universities may limit its ability to fulfill its other goals, including increasing both enrollment and college graduates, providing financial aid and helping minorities with college preparation.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken up the appeal of a woman convicted of a brutal 2004 murder. Megan Winfrey was convicted, along with her brother and father, in the stabbing death of Murray Burr. Her father and brother’s convictions have since been overturned, but Winfrey remains in prison on a life sentence plus 45 years. Lawyers argue that the evidence used to convict the Winfreys — a scent lineup using bloodhounds — is not infallible, as it was presented to the jury. The court is now being asked to determine whether there was enough evidence to convict Winfrey.