The little ol' Texas budget is suddenly national news, and with the misinformation sure to float up in the backwash of political advertising, it's probably a good idea to pull the numbers together to see when various finger-pointers are telling the truth and when they're fibbing.
The problem with debating candidate's records on spending and taxation on either the state or federal level -- other than the fact that it usually bores the devil out of the voters -- is that the numbers are squishy. There are several legitimate ways to compare one budget to another and you already know that people working for Gov. George W. Bush are going to use their best version, while his opponents pick the worst. So far, both sides have done their share of stretching the numbers to fit the arguments they want to make. And you should remember an old legislative adage that could eventually creep into this presidential contest (though it hasn't yet): Votes on appropriations bills are the votes that kill people in elections. There's something golden and something goofy in every budget.
If you simply look at what was budgeted for the next two years ($98.1 billion) and at the two-year budget that preceded it ($87.1 billion), the current version is 12.6 percent larger. That earlier budget was 9.1 percent larger than its predecessor, which was 12.5 percent larger than the last budget approved in the Ann Richards Administration. The amount budgeted by the Legislature during the most recent session was $27.1 billion more than was budgeted in the last session before Bush's election in 1994, an increase of 38.2 percent.
There's a quibbling point right there. Some budgeteers compare budgeted amounts to budgeted amounts, knowing as they do so that the state's expenditures always creep up during the two-year budget period. Others compare current budgets to past actual spending. Because of that guaranteed spending creep, that second kind of comparison disguises some of the increase from one budget cycle to the next. By the governor's numbers, unadjusted spending was up 34.9 percent over that period instead of 38 percent. The key word there is unadjusted: Bush's case is based on adjustments.
... Because there are So Many Ways to Figure
Bush and his number-crunchers concede the overall numbers are up, but say that the budget-to-budget comparison ignores important information. They argue that school finance, tobacco money, inflation and a booming economy all change the outlook and should be taken into account.
For instance, money from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement dropped almost a half billion dollars into the current budget. That allowed that much spending to be undertaken without hitting taxpayers. Bush is also arguing that if the budget numbers are adjusted for inflation and population growth, spending isn't up all that much at all. Make those adjustments and that 38.2 percent number above drops to 2.7 percent. Add in other adjustments and you can argue that the state spends now about the same portions it spent in 1991.
The Bush gang drops the adjustments when they talk about education spending, saying that it accounts for more than half of the increase in state spending during his years at the helm. They also point to the $7.0 billion in federal funds spent by the state, while treading lightly on the fact that $15.4 billion came from state taxes. They argue that, as a percentage of personal incomes, state spending has shrunk (another way of saying it: personal incomes have increased faster than state spending). Throw out the tax numbers, add in personal income, and you can conclude that state spending through 2001 is at about 8.5 percent of personal income -- just where it was in 1991's budget ten years earlier.
What to do When Elvis Leaves the Building
She's a Longhorn. He's an Aggie. But U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says she and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry are "going to be a team in whatever we do" politically over the next couple of years. Hutchison says flatly that she is doing no thinking -- that's her emphasis, not ours -- about running for governor if and when Gov. George W. Bush moves up or out. Her remarks are her response to speculation that she has an eye on the Mansion and that she and Perry might end up in competition if that particular piece of government housing goes on the market next year. She says she has been asked if she would rule out running for governor, and she says -- and has said before -- that she's not ruling anything out or closing any doors. She also doesn't directly answer the question of whether she wants to be governor of Texas. But she says she is accumulating seniority in the U.S. Senate and says her intention is to run for reelection next year and to serve out the full six-year term. She says she and Perry are friends and have never discussed their plans for what would happen if Bush wins the presidency next year or, failing that, decides to make the governor's office an open seat in the 2002 elections.
Civics Class: There's No Stopping Texas Governors
We said last week that Gov. Bush could run for a third term as governor in 2002 if he fails in his presidential bid next year. That prompted a reader to wonder why the two-term limit wouldn't apply to the governor. Most people seem to think there's a two-term cap, but there is no such thing in Texas. Presidents can only run for two four-year terms, but no such limit applies to governors or to anyone else in elected state office in Texas. One reason that's such an arcane bit of law is that, in the case of governor, nobody has been in a position to give serious thought to a third term in more than 25 years. Texas had a stretch of three- and four-term governors in the 1950s and 1960s (Allan Shivers served almost eight years after the death of Beauford Jester in mid-1949 and after three elections on his own, and Price Daniel Sr. and John Connally each won three two-year terms).
When legislators (and then voters, since it was a constitutional amendment) changed the length of the terms from two years to four, they talked about imposing a term limit (one that would match the federal system) but decided against it. Bush was the first governor to win consecutive four-year terms, and would be eligible to run again, if he wanted to, in 2002 (assuming he's still the governor then).
That brings us to this clarification from Perry's camp: He said last week that he intends to run for reelection to whatever office he's holding in 2002. If Bush wins the presidency and Perry moves up to replace him, Perry will run for governor. If Bush loses and decides to run for a third term in the Pink Building's middle office, Perry will run for another term as Lite Guv. But Perry hadn't considered the other possibility -- that Bush could lose the presidential race and then decide to move on to something else in 2002 instead of staying in state office. Now that we brought it up, add this addendum: Perry, in that case, would definitely run for the open governor's seat.
Paying Government Workers When they Don't Work
The ever-growing stack of legal opinions issued by the attorney general's office occasionally contains some odd positions and weird questions. To wit: Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, asked AG John Cornyn whether state officials and employees can pull the state into binding oral contracts. Surprisingly, the answer is that the AG thinks it would be a rare circumstance for Texas to be bound to an oral contract, but that yes, it is legal. The state, as always, has an out: Nobody can sue for breach of such a contract without the Legislature's permission. Odd Duck Number Two: Cornyn says county officials do have the authority to pay employees for time the employees did not work -- you read that correctly -- if the non-work was the result of the office being closed for bad weather or repairs. And they also have the right to order those closings.
Buying What's Already Yours
By the end of the year, Secretary of State Elton Bomer will uncork a service that will send automatic emails to subscribers who want to be notified about public meetings, proposed administrative rules and the like. That's new in two ways: Texas apparently is leading other states in the race for electronic government (at least in this area), and the agency is going to charge people who want to get on the email list or use the rules databases.
Strange as it sounds to ask Texans to pay for public records, the idea actually has some precedent and might actually be required, depending on how you read the budget and other state laws.
State rules and meetings and other notices become official when they're posted in the Texas Register, and that publication, put out by the Secretary of State, is one of the most important sources of information about the particulars of government changes in Texas. The information is free, but SOS will mail it to you for $150 annually, a price originally set up to cover the costs of printing and postage (and which apparently falls short of even that).
The agency used to have about 4,000 subscribers to the Register, but the Legislature said in the mid-1970s that Texans should have free access to the publication; since then, the number of paid subscribers has dropped to about 2,000. Even though it's free, the agency is prevented from using appropriated funds to make or distribute copies, except to specific agencies and officials who are listed in the appropriations bill. Everybody else can go to the state library or browse on the Internet for free, but you can't get the info by mail without paying.
Now, the agency is preparing an electronic version of the publication that will be more useful, especially to law firms and lobbyists and specialists, than either the paper version or the current electronic version. For one thing, subscribers will get an email notice every time there's a change proposed in the Texas Administrative Code or in other state rules, or when meetings are posted.
For another, subscribers will be able to easily search the entire databases of administrative laws and past Texas Registers. But it will cost you: If they stick to the current proposal, the agency will charge $300 a year for the databases, and $120 per year per agency for the email alerts (that means it would cost $240 a year to get notices regarding two agencies, and so on). They also sell the entire database to data service companies, such as Lexis, which in turn sell access to the databases to their customers. Those data service outfits pay $25,000 for copies of the whole database.
There's also a state law that says the agency can sell "specialized value-added services" at market rates. If there's a line here between public records and charging for particular ways of presenting those public records, it was apparently set in the Legislature. The agency hopes to bring in about $250,000 annually from the new services, and they'll be available by the end of the calendar year.
The Curious Case of Alex Gonzalez
Judge Alex Gonzalez, a state district judge in Fort Stockton, is retiring. That's noteworthy because some people, including some in the governor's office, thought he already quit once this year.
In May, Gonzalez said he was going to retire. He cited his health as the reason. But then he got to feeling better and let the governor's office know he wasn't going anywhere. The governor's office replied by saying they had already accepted his resignation. He said he didn't resign; he retired. He said he could set the date of his own retirement, and said the governor could try to throw him out if he wanted to. Gov. Bush's office labeled Gonzalez a "holdover judge" -- a term Gonzales says is new to him -- and let the issue fade into the woodwork.
Last month, however, Gonzalez underwent prostate surgery and his doctors told the 67-year-old to slow down. He has let the state know, officially, that he'll stay on the payroll until November 30. And the governor moved quickly this time, appointing Carl Pendergrass, an attorney with a private practice in Del Rio, to take over when Gonzalez leaves. That court covers five counties: Pecos, Reagan, Terrell, Upton and Val Verde. Pendergrass will have to run in next year's elections to keep the seat.
National Democrats Target Two Texans
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's list of targeted races is on the loose, and two of the 27 races on the inventory are in Texas. No surprises here: The Democrats are looking at CD 5, the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and at CD 14, now held by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside. It's early in the game, but that presumably means that Regina Montoya-Coggins of Dallas and Loy Sneary of Bay City will have help from sympoliticos in Washington, D.C.
If you go by last year's numbers, neither is particularly vulnerable. Paul beat Sneary handily last year, winning more than 55 percent of the vote. Sessions was up against Victor Morales and also drew more than 55 percent of the vote. Republicans are counting on the top of the ticket, where George W. Bush might be (he's got that pesky primary to overcome) and where U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will certainly be. Democrats contend the two incumbents are more vulnerable that last year's numbers would indicate and -- at this early point, anyway -- say they'll spend the big bucks needed to win.
Speaking of Texans with concentric red and white circles on their backs: Republican Ramsey Farley of Temple kicks off his campaign this week against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. Edwards is on the GOP hit list, and Farley, who until recently held a seat on the Temple ISD board, will make stops in Killeen, Temple and Waco to start his challenge. One of the folks who got Farley's email announcement of the tour was Rodney Gear, who's also from the southern end of the Waco-dominated CD 11 and who has also been considering a run at Edwards. Edwards didn't have a Republican opponent in 1998.
Political News, Oddments and Trivialities
It's like the old commercials about stains: "You try rubbing them out. You try scrubbing them out, and still... " There has been a persistent and recurrent rumor that Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, won't seek reelection. Bull, he says. He's running. The rumor started at the end of the session, when Corte missed some legislative time because of Marine Corps Reserves duty. He tried to knock the story down then, but it stuck. Fuggetaboutit.
• Add Huntsville attorney Thomas Leeper to the race for HD 18, now held by Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston. Ben Bius, who lost last year, is running again and will face Leeper in the GOP primary. Ellis, a freshman, is planning to run for reelection.
• Former Texas Sen. Ted Lyon, a Mesquite Democrat, winged Koch Industries for $378 million in a case that will certainly be appealed. Lyon, a trial lawyer, sued on behalf of a Kaufman County family whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in the explosion of a propane pipeline. Lyon expects the other side to appeal, but said the ruling is the biggest of its kind for a case involving a single death.
• Rudy Izzard, the San Angelo dentist who twice challenged U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Stamford, is suing the Abilene Reporter-News for $25 million. According to the paper, he says the paper knowingly libeled him in the closing days of last year's contest and cost him the election. The paper endorsed Stenholm in an editorial that apparently included a blast at a television commercial identified at the time as an Izzard ad. It wasn't his, and the paper corrected it two days later.
• Statistic of the week: Iowa, where Gov. Bush is running commercials in Spanish (apparently a first in presidential politics), had a population of 2,862,447 in 1998, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That total included 56,937 Hispanics; Iowa ranks 35th among the states in Hispanic population.
• The Republican mayor of the nation's biggest city is coming to the state's Democratic bastion to raise money. Rudy Giuliani will be in Austin on November 29 to raise money for his U.S. Senate race in New York. Dave Peck, a newly minted political consultant who most recently worked for David Dewhurst, is setting up that deal.
• For your calendar: Candidates for state offices can start filing on December 3 and must file by January 3 for the primaries, which will be held on March 14. The runoffs for next year's primaries will be on April 11, and the general election is on November 7, 2000.
Politics with a Cover Charge
Somewhere back there in the middle of summer, the Texas Association of Business Chambers of Commerce began working to rewire the panel that makes its political decisions about endorsements and contributions. They've done it, but not the way they first considered. Originally, one plan would have cut the number of folks on the political action committee board to 27 from 47.
That didn't work out, partly because the 32 TABCC chapters around the state each have a member, and the executive committee of the association picks another 15. Instead, there will still be 47 people on the PAC board. But they won't automatically get to vote: The new rules require PAC board members to contribute $1,000 (or bring in that much from someone else) in order to become voting board members. That's two big changes for the organization's political operations. They have also decided to crank up what they describe as a fairly sophisticated system of rating lawmakers' votes on business issues. Separately, but in the same shop: TABCC fired five people on its sales staff and will give telemarketing a try in its continuing pursuit of new members.
Another Opportunity for Those Pioneers
Wait! There's another Bush committee collecting money for the governor's presidential campaign. Bush's national finance committee meets in Austin next month, and the meeting will include a fundraiser for the governor's "general election legal and accounting compliance fund", or GELAC. The letter to potential donors says the account will take care of the costs of complying with campaign finance laws once Bush accepts public financing for the general election after the Republican's national convention next summer. The idea is that strict funding rules that apply to the $66 million in public funds don't apply to the GELAC. The letter also makes it clear that people who have already given the maximum $1,000 to the regular Bush committee are free to give up to another $1,000 to the GELAC next month and that couples can give $2,000. Bush has said he'll skip the public money available to primary candidates, but he's appaerntly going to take it for the home stretch.
Education Notes: Appointments and Task Forces
Lite Guv Perry kicked off his higher education committee with a pitch to get college degrees in the hands of more than one in five Texas kids. That, he says, is the current number. The first meeting of his special task force drew a surprisingly large group for a legislative hearing of this type. Perry told the group not to pit schools against one another and to come back with more than spending ideas. This is worth watching on a political level; Perry is making a priority of something Gov. Bush was seen as ignoring (even though spending on higher ed increased $1 billion last session, on Bush's watch).
While that was going on, the people who'll oversee the current system changed some. Bush went on an education appointment spree, naming new people to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees the non-public schools half of the state's education system, to the board of regents at Texas State Technical College and to the Teacher Retirement System.
At THECB, the new faces include Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa, a Laredo cardiologist; Gerald Griffin of Hunt, a former top official at NASA who now works for an executive search firm; Waco banker and businessman Carey Hobbs; H.B. Zachry executive Cathy Obriotti Green of San Antonio; Hector de Jesus Ruiz, an executive with Motorola in Austin; and Terdema Ussery II of Frisco, president and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and former president of Nike Sports Management.
The governor named three to the TSTC board: Pete Foster of Houston, senior vice president at Chase Bank of Texas; Terry Preuninger of Waco, an executive with TXU Electric & Gas; and Elizabeth Linda Routh of Corpus Christi, president of two technology communications companies.
New names on the Teacher Retirement System's board include Mary Alice Baker, an associate professor at Lamar University in Beaumont; investor and rancher Terence Ellis of New Ulm, retired managing partner of Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management in Houston; and former Dallas ISD and Houston ISD superintendent Linus Wright, who now works for an executive search firm.
Political People and Their Moves
Col. Dudley Thomas, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told his staff this week that he has decided to retire effective at the end of February. He's been with the agency since 1960 and has been the director since 1996. The three-member board at DPS will pick the new director; their next meeting is in November... Victor Rodriguez didn't stay gone for long. The former chairman of the state's parole board left three months ago to take the top job in Harlingen's police department. Now he's left that job to become director of the parole division in the Texas prison system... Texas Southern University ended its search for a new president by staying inside, naming interim president and former business school dean Priscilla Slade to the post... Gov. Bush, still filling up the new district courts created by the Legislature, named Michael Jergins, a Round Rock attorney who previously worked as a Tarrant County and federal prosecutor, to preside over Williamson County's new 395th District Court... Phylis Speedlin, a San Antonio lawyer, will head that city's new 408th District Court. She is a former hospital administrator who switched to law and then worked at Clemens & Spencer for 16 years... Take Vicki Isaacks off the list of possible candidates for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, at least for now. She'll preside over the new 393rd District Court in Denton County. Isaacks, who worked as both a prosecutor and a public defender in Dallas County, is married to Denton County's District Attorney, Bruce Isaacks. She lost in last year's Republican primary elections for the appeals court to Mike Keasler, who went on to win the general election... Daniel Branch, a Dallas attorney who's been on the Texas Public Finance Authority Board since 1995, has been tapped to chair that agency. John Kerr, who had been chairman, will stay on the board... Lost in the shuffle last week: There's a second interim committee on electric utility restructuring that overlaps with the first. The one we mentioned last week will basically watch to see if the regulatory changes passed last session are working. But another panel will watch the effects of that on tax revenue. It includes all the members we mentioned last week, plus an extra from each legislative chamber: Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, and Rep. Tom Uher, D-Bay City... Lt. Gov. Rick Perry named Timothy Roth, an economist who heads the economics and finance department at the University of Texas at El Paso, as his public (read: non-legislative) appointee to the Sunset Commission... The Austin-based Dispute Resolution Center is handing out awards for community leaders for "promoting non-violent conflict resolution" and the list includes several folks who probably never thought violence was one of their options. Texas Secretary of State Elton Bomer is among the honorees for his work trying to get water and sewer services for people who live in colonias in South Texas.
Quotes of the Week
Washington attorney John Dowd, who conducted Major League Baseball's gambling investigation of Pete Rose, on the decision to temporarily lift the lifetime ban against the former player so he could accept an award at a World Series game: "I don't understand it. It seems to be the culture today, from the president on down. Nobody cares about the rules. I think it's a shame."
Presidential hopeful and new Reform Party member Pat Buchanan, describing, in a speech, his visit to see Ross Perot, the party's founder, five years ago: "I went down to Texas to see him. I didn't come out any wiser than when I went in."
Judge Steve Mansfield of the Court of Criminal Appeals, who allegedly scalped complimentary tickets to a UT football game, after pleading no contest to related trespassing charges and being sentenced to six months probation: "I've been taken off the ticket list."
Texas prisons spokesman Glen Castlebury, explaining steady sales of radio earphones: "Inmates are always losing them or using them, you know, to choke other inmates."
Publicist James Moran, who died last week at age 91, reacting several years ago to the New York Police Department's decision to deny him a permit for a stunt: "It's a sad day for American capitalism when a man can't fly a midget on a kite over Central Park."
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 18, 1 November 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.