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Who Needs a Fig Leaf?

The conventional wisdom among legislators and lobbyists is that congressional redistricting will be a "second" issue in a summer special session, since politicians don't want to look like they're spending taxpayer money for a purely political purpose. It's not a baseless theory–some of the smart people have been talking about it right along with the rest of us.

The conventional wisdom among legislators and lobbyists is that congressional redistricting will be a "second" issue in a summer special session, since politicians don't want to look like they're spending taxpayer money for a purely political purpose. It's not a baseless theory–some of the smart people have been talking about it right along with the rest of us.

One other issue could be government reorganization, which would revive a particularly broad-ranging bill that aimed to consolidate executive branch power in the governor's office, to take some muscle away from the Legislature, and to save a bunch of money through efficiencies and consolidations in the process. That might all be great, but it's hard to find people who think it's an emergency, especially since the Legislature either approved or disposed of most of the financial provisions before discarding the rest of the bill during the regular session.

Another that is getting more attention now is the one thing the tort reformers wanted during the legislative session that they couldn't get: Legislation making it more difficult for people in the earlier stages of asbestos-related diseases to add their names to the registry of victims for whom that industry has to buy insurance and other benefits. It died for lack of enough votes in the Texas Senate, but the supporters were close to the number they needed and they want to try again. It has more of a time element to it than government reorganization, but it's not yet seen as a three-alarm fire.

One issue not done in the legislative session has a built-in argument for quick action, but it wouldn't provide a distraction from congressional redistricting. It is congressional redistricting. Republicans have argued all along that Texas voters are misrepresented by a congressional delegation that has 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in it. By every other measure of who's winning the political wars in Texas, Republicans are ahead. They've been telling people at public events that the political map ought to be more representative of voting patterns. And they've got an urgency argument, if they can convince voters on that first point: To change things in time for the next elections, the maps have to be drawn, voted out of the Legislature and into the hands of federal judges and regulators who'll decide whether the cartographers did what civil rights law requires of them.

While the speculations continue, people down in the Senate's machine rooms have been quietly working up redistricting plans; likewise in the Texas House. It's a plan-fest. Meanwhile, various newspapers have been talking to various senators, and it's not at all clear that 21 of the 31 senators are interested in changing the congressional lines. That's new: During the legislative session, the Republicans were convinced they had the votes to bring up a plan. Senate Democrats said they had the votes to block them, but it would have been difficult to get 51 House Democrats to move to Ardmore, Oklahoma, for a week if they'd been confident that GOP plans would come undone in the Senate.

Add this: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, while saying he thinks the congressional lines are foul, is also telling anyone who'll listen that the votes are iffy at best in the Senate. He's said he expects the two-thirds rule–which he controls, more or less–to be in place during a special session. That's a gift to the Democrats. If he wanted to play hardball, he'd bring them in, get 16 votes for a congressional redistricting plan (there are 19 Republicans), and ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, it's done. And it would simplify the situation if the special session had only one issue on the agenda. The 21-vote rule only works if there is a "blocker bill," and that would require either a legitimate issue on the agenda or a Lite Guv willing to buck his party in the interest of Senate tradition.

Balancing the Budget with O.P.M.

Companies asking for large refunds on their state taxes after September 1 will have a new problem. The state won't write refund checks in some cases. If the amounts are greater than $250,000 and it's not a routine refund of a routine overpayment, the comptroller can't write a refund check without the Legislature's permission.

A little perspective: The comptroller made 108,213 refunds in 2002, and only 735 of them were over $250,000. Of those, only 391 refunds would have been withheld under the new provision in the state budget. But they were BIG refunds. If each of the 391 had only been due $250,000 (and not, say, several million), holding the refunds would have kept $97.8 million in the state treasury. Money in the state treasury can be used to certify the budget, even if it's not going to be spent on the items in the budget. Holding the money, then, makes the budget balance.

The taxpayers will still collect interest for every day the state is holding their dough–that's state law. They'll apparently be able to apply refund credits to future payments they might owe the state (which means they'll get their money, but more slowly than if the state just wrote a check). Still, they're being forced to lend Texas some money whether or not they wanted to.

What's in it for the state is simple: By delaying cash payments owed to business taxpayers, budgeteers will have an extra $120 million on the plus side of the ledger for the next two years –that's the actual estimate of what the companies will be owed in refunds during that time. Using Other People's Money (the O.P.M. above), the Legislature was able to cobble the budget together even though a couple of key budget boosters came apart. They didn't get the money they'd hoped for from a patch on the corporate franchise tax. Businesses didn't like the patch and it died. And they didn't pass a change to the sales tax on vehicles that would have forced sellers to pay taxes on car values instead of on the sales prices reported by the sellers themselves.

The refund provision, snuck into the budget on the Senate side, requires companies expecting more than a quarter million dollars to get legislative approval before they get a check. Remember, gentle reader, that the Legislature won't be here to approve payments like that until January 2005, unless they hold special sessions and the governor adds the payments to the agenda for those sessions.

The loudest protests are coming from consultants who specialize in getting refunds for big taxpayers. The consultants get paid when the taxpayers get paid, and don't get paid when those taxpayers' refunds are held up. They're making noise.

A Constitutional Question, Just Between Friends

Don't expect the comptroller to filibuster the governor's budget vetoes. The lawyers aren't convinced she would have the legal ability to do so if she wanted to–and she doesn't want to.

Refresher: Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn held a press conference to say the budget is more complex than usual and could take more time to certify. The governor can't sign the budget until the comptroller certifies that there will be enough money coming in during the next two years to pay for everything on the Legislature's list. The comptroller doesn't face a constitutional time limit on certification. But the governor has a time limit on his vetoes. He's got to have those done by June 22. Bills not signed or vetoed by the end of that particular Sunday become law without his signature.

The legal question? What if the budget isn't certified by then? It can't become law, since it's not certified, and the governor's opportunity to exercise his line-item vetoes will have passed. Does that effectively move the veto power from the governor to the comptroller? One answer is that the constitution gives that power to the officeholder with the Mansion and not to the one with the Treasury. As far as we can tell, that's the answer the comptroller is working with.

Strayhorn says she's got her staff slaving over the budget and is hopeful that nothing will force the question. In the future, though, it could require an attorney general's opinion or a constitutional change to close the possibility.

False Start

School finance and higher education funding will apparently both be molded in special committees appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker, but there's no telling who'll be on the panels or, in one case, how many people will be on it.

The higher education issue will be hashed out between now and the regular legislative session in January 2005. The House proposed a group with more representatives than senators. That's been redone, and it'll have six people from each chamber and four more appointed by the governor.

House members have now been named, including Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, who'll co-chair the committee; Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas; Fred Brown, R-College Station; Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

School finance will come up sooner–everyone in management has signed off on a special session on that subject within a year. But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst apparently jumped the gun by outlining the composition of the committee for reporters. The governor and the speaker hadn't signed off; the House already has a Select Committee on the subject and the governor has already begun appointing public members to that panel; so far, there's no compact on how to include the Senate.

Miscellany

Scotch the rumor that high-level Republicans are trying to recruit an opponent to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Some in the GOP are unhappy with the accommodations he's made to Democrats in the Senate and with his reluctance to get in line with Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick on redistricting, the budget, school finance, and other issues. But even with their noses out of joint, the rumor is apparently incorrect.

• Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, isn't on the redistricting bandwagon, and the Republicans need a couple of Democrats to get them over the two-thirds rule in the Senate. He says he wants more congressional clout on the Border. Another proposal, from the other side, is that legislation allowing Life without parole–a pet issue of Lucio's and an idea that Perry flirted with two years ago–could be added to the agenda in an attempt to win his support for redistricting.

• For refusing to produce documents demanded by a Travis County grand jury, the president of the Texas Association of Business and one of his employees have been cited for contempt of court. Bill Hammond and Don Shelton–who runs TAB's computer operations and such–haven't been thrown in jail. Like two TAB communications director Cathy DeWitt and PAC director Jack Campbell–hit with the same charges a week ago–they'll remain free pending appeals. TAB's participation in last year's political campaigns is under investigation by prosecutors who want to know whether the association illegally used corporate contributions to get TAB's favored candidates elected. TAB says member lists and donor lists are protect by the First Amendment.

• The guy who does gag movie posters at the end of each legislative session has done it again. The latest efforts from Mark Loeffler, a former Senate aide turned web designer and Republican campaign consultant, are online at www.texascampaigns.net/ QUANTUM/postermain.html. He's turned the poster from the movie Catch Me If You Can into an Ardmore movie featuring House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Democratic Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, one of the leaders of the holdout. Loeffler has turned Matrix Reloaded into Distrix2: Reloaded, a riff on congressional redistricting that follows the redistricting spoof he did two years ago with the first Matrix movie and the decade's first round of political cartography (U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, gets to wear the leather tights and overcoat in this year's poster). The poster for Old School is now a school finance spoof, and Gov. Rick Perry makes a second appearance as Austin Powers, this time in "The Lege Who Shagged Me."

The Bills that Bypassed the Governor

September isn't even supposed to be a voting month anymore, but the Texas Legislature moved up the constitutional amendment elections–which would otherwise have been held in November–to let voters pick their way through 22 constitutional amendments without the distractions of mayoral bouts and other local contests. Constitutional amendments go to voters without a stop at the governor's office, but one amendment was set up conditionally. Prop 19 won't be on the ballot if the governor vetoes the enabling legislation.

The money shot is Prop 12: It would put medical malpractice caps into the constitution, undermining potential challenges to that section of the tort reform legislation that was signed into law a couple of days ago. They haven't announced it yet, but the backers of that amendment are hiring David Carney–Gov. Rick Perry's top political consultant–to run the "Yes" side of that ballot fight. So far, that's the only amendment that looks like a headline-grabber or a moneymaker for political consultants. Along those lines, other lures on the list include Props. 6, 9, 11, 14, and 16.

Election Day is Saturday, September 13. The amendments, as they'll read on the ballot, and in the order fixed by Secretary of State Gwyn Shea in a public drawing:

Proposition 1 (HJR 68a): "The constitutional amendment authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to use assets in certain veterans' land and veterans' housing assistance funds to provide veterans homes for the aged or infirm and to make principal, interest, and bond enhancement payments on revenue bonds."

Proposition 2 (HJR 51): "The constitutional amendment to establish a two-year period for the redemption of a mineral interest sold for unpaid ad valorem taxes at a tax sale."

Proposition 3 (HJR 55): "The constitutional amendment to authorize the Legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation property owned by a religious organization that is leased for use as a school or that is owned with the intent of expanding or constructing a religious facility."

Proposition 4 (SJR 30): "The constitutional amendment relating to the provision of parks and recreational facilities by certain conservation and reclamation districts."

Proposition 5 (SJR 25): "The constitutional amendment to authorize the Legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation travel trailers not held or used for the production of income."

Proposition 6 (HJR 23): "The constitutional amendment permitting refinancing of a home equity loan with a reverse mortgage."

Proposition 7 (HJR 44): "The constitutional amendment to permit a six-person jury in a district court misdemeanor trial."

Proposition 8 (HJR 62): "The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to permit a person to take office without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify in an election for that office."

Proposition 9 (HJR 68b): "The constitutional amendment relating to the use of income and appreciation of the permanent school fund."

Proposition 10 (HJR 61): "The constitutional amendment authorizing municipalities to donate surplus fire-fighting equipment or supplies for the benefit of rural volunteer fire departments."

Proposition 11 (HJR 85): "A constitutional amendment to allow wineries in this state to manufacture and sell Texas wine on the wineries' premises and to dispense Texas wine without charge for tasting on the wineries' premises."

Proposition 12 (HJR 3): "The constitutional amendment concerning civil lawsuits against doctors and health care providers, and other actions, authorizing the Legislature to determine limitations on non-economic damages."

Proposition 13 (HJR 16): "The constitutional amendment to permit counties, cities and towns, and junior college districts to establish an ad valorem tax freeze on residence homesteads of the disabled and of the elderly and their spouses."

And More Amendments

Proposition 14 (HJR 28): "The constitutional amendment providing for authorization of the issuing of notes or the borrowing of money on a short-term basis by a state transportation agency for transportation-related projects, and the issuance of bonds and other public securities secured by the state highway fund."

Proposition 15 (HJR 54): "The constitutional amendment providing that certain benefits under certain local public retirement systems may not be reduced or impaired."

Proposition 16 (SJR 42): "The constitutional amendment authorizing a home equity line of credit, providing for administrative interpretation of home equity lending law, and otherwise relating to the making, refinancing, repayment, and enforcement of home equity loans."

Proposition 17 (HJR 21): "The constitutional amendment to prohibit an increase in the total amount of school district ad valorem taxes that may be imposed on the residence homestead of a disabled person."

Proposition 18 (HJR 59): "The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to permit a person to assume an office of a political subdivision without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify in an election for that office."

Proposition 19 (SJR 45): "The constitutional amendment to repeal the authority of the Legislature to provide for the creation of rural fire prevention districts." (This one will be on the ballot only if Gov. Rick Perry signs the enabling legislation, SB 1021.)

Proposition 20 (SJR 55): "The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds or notes not to exceed $250 million payable from the general revenues of the state to provide loans to defense-related communities, that will be repaid by the defense-related community, for economic development projects, including projects that enhance the military value of military installations."

Proposition 21 (SJR 19): "The constitutional amendment to permit a current or retired faculty member of a public college or university to receive compensation for service on the governing body of a water district."

Proposition 22 (HJR 84): "The constitutional amendment authorizing the appointment of a temporary replacement officer to fill a vacancy created when a public officer enters active duty in the United States armed forces."

Old Enough to Vote

With this issue, Texas Weekly begins its 20th year of continuous publication. It was started by Sam Kinch Jr., John Rogers and George Phenix in the summer of 1984, back when there were four more major newspapers in Texas than there are now, a half-dozen or more political newsletters of various kinds, when all of the statewide officeholders were Democrats instead of Republicans, and when Austin's flashiest industry was real estate and not technology.

That first year was the year Ronald Reagan was sworn in for a second term. State Reps. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, and Ed Kuempel, R-Seguin, were freshmen. The U.S. pulled peacekeeping troops out of the Middle East. The phone company was busted up into seven Baby Bells. Detroit beat San Diego in five games in the World Series. The "Phi Slamma Jamma" crew at the University of Houston lost the NCAA championship game for the second year in a row, this time to Georgetown. Wimbledon's winners were Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe (the losers were Chris Evert Lloyd and Jimmy Connors). Vanessa Williams became Miss America and then lost the crown, and Terms of Endearment was the Oscar-winning movie. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that you could tape a show at home without violating the copyright, according to the InfoPlease Almanac.

To everyone who reads the Texas Weekly, thank you. We really appreciate it. A number of the people who subscribed the first year remain on the list, and to them we owe special thanks for sticking with us through two decades of change. We are most grateful.

Political People and their Moves

Gene Fondren, the former legislator who's been the revered chief of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association since 1972, announced Thursday afternoon at that group's convention in Las Vegas that he'll step down at the end of the year. He told the attendees that the board will start its search for his replacement right away. Fondren himself wasn't immediately available for comment.

It seems like the Legislature hasn't been gone for 15 minutes and the political campaigns are already underway.... Victor Carrillo, the Taylor County Judge appointed to the Railroad Commission by Gov. Rick Perry, will have the Guv's political team when he runs for a full term next year. Carrillo, who came in when Tony Garza became the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, will have Reggie Bashur, David Carney, and Ray Sullivan for advice, David Weeks doing media and Mike Baselice polling. It's early, but no opponents have surfaced...

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has parted company with top aides Tracy Wurzel and Bill Kenyon. Wurzel worked for the comptroller, most recently as chief of staff, for about three years after stints with then-Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, as a lobbyist, and as a Senate staffer. Everyone concerned describes the break as amicable. The accounts for the Strayhorn/Wurzel split differ, but most sync up on this point: It was related to the legislative failure of the Texas Next Step program the comptroller was pushing. Wurzel had the lead role in promoting Strayhorn's programs in the Pink Building. Kenyon, who met Strayhorn when the two were trying to get Clayton Williams Jr. elected governor in 1991, lasted less than a year after relocating his family from California to become the comptroller's communications director. Neither has lined up a job, and neither of their jobs at the LBJ State Office Building has been filled.

George Wright is moving to Houston from Arlington. The provost at UT Arlington is the only finalist for the presidency at Prairie View A&M. He'll replace Charles Hines, who left the A&M post almost a year ago after a stormy seven-year tenure. Wright was a vice provost at Duke and at UT Austin–and head of the African-American studies programs at those schools–before going to UT Arlington. UT hasn't named his replacement

Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo lawyer who has done a load of pro bono work on behalf of people thrown in jail in the Tulia drug case, won the lawyer of the year award for his effort from the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association...

The police blotter: Rep. Gabi Canales, D-Alice, was pulled over for a speeding ticket that turned into charges of driving while intoxicated and a citation for open containers in the car (two bottles of whiskey). She's got a lawyer and told reporters she's not guilty...

When the newest Alamo movie comes out, looking for familiar faces will become a cottage industry in the Capitol. One face in the crowd will be Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who put on a wig and acted like he was mad at Santa Anna for a couple of days of filming. "Living history, Disney-style," he calls it.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry in the Dallas Morning News, dissing reporters who asked him for the umpteenth time about plans for a summer special session on congressional redistricting: "Write about something else. Go ahead and go on vacation. Why don't you take the rest of the summer off, all of you."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, telling the Houston Chronicle that drawing new congressional redistricting maps is not the "most pressing" issue: "I hate to see it come into the Senate because it will be divisive. Lots of good will is threatened by redistricting."

Nebraska state Sen. Kermit Brashear, quoted in The Wall Street Journal after he and other Republicans voted to raise taxes in that state: "We have to balance the budget, and we aren't going to destroy the University of Nebraska and K-through-12 education to prove how conservative we are."

Gov. Perry, telling the San Antonio Express-News that he opted out of the traditional governor-to-governor wager over the championship basketball series between the San Antonio Spurs and the New Jersey Nets: "I don't know of anything in New Jersey that we'd want."

Jan Forte, who has a rafting company on the Rio Grande river, in a Houston Chronicle story on the lousy conditions caused by the years-long drought there: "I just tell [customers], 'If your canoe dumps you, just get back up and dust yourself off and get back in.'"


Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 1, 16 June 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


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