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It's Only Money

It often happens in races for the Texas House and the Texas Senate: Losers spend more than winners in tight races. Not always, but often enough to make this exercise interesting.

It often happens in races for the Texas House and the Texas Senate: Losers spend more than winners in tight races. Not always, but often enough to make this exercise interesting.

One lopsided race on our list was in Austin, where Republican Bill Welch gathered $1.2 million for his contest against Democrat Valinda Bolton, who won with a war chest of $479,275. That's nearly a five-to-two financial advantage, but she's the one going to the Capitol in January. Another: Jim Landtroop, R-Plainview, had almost three times the resources of Democrat Joe Heflin of Crosbyton — $709,375 against $263,725 — but lost. And so did George Antuna, a San Antonio Republican whose race against Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, unraveled in spite of an almost three-to-one financial advantage.

We looked at 20 competitive races and in 13 of them, the candidate with the most resources lost. Money may be the mother's milk of politics, but mama can't win your race for you.

A couple of notes as you look at this chart. The state requires candidates to report how much they're bringing in during the last week of a campaign, but not how much they're spending. Those numbers won't be available until January. So we're assuming the candidates went all in — spending all of the dollars they raised and borrowed during the second half of the year. We also added in the cash on hand each candidate reported in their last filing prior to mid-year. To do otherwise would have ignored one of the biggest advantages of incumbency — the ability to raise money before your next race even starts.

We threw in Rep. Mike Krusee's contest against Democrat Karen Felthauser just to prove money isn't everything. Krusee, a Round Rock Republican, won and didn't spend nearly what he could have. But he barely broke 50 percent against a candidate who spent less than $1 for every vote she received.

Several races — assuming all the money got spent — cost more than $1.5 million when all was said and done. Antuna had more money per vote than anyone else here; Felthauser had the least. The most efficient winner, if you look at it like that, was Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, at $12.94 per vote. Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, woke up early for a tough challenge and held on, but it took $44.13 per vote to do it. That was the most expensive win, on a per-vote basis, on the list. (To get a printable copy of the list by itself, click here or on the image below.)

Just Can't Stop Voting

The last two elections of the season (maybe) will be on December 12 and December 19. Early voting will start December 4 and the 11th, respectively.

Voters in CD-23, which reaches from San Antonio to El Paso, will choose between U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in a runoff for that congressional seat on December 12. Bonilla got 48.6 percent of the votes in an eight-candidate field, while Rodriguez got 19.9 percent. The difference: 35,554 votes. Bonilla was in front in all but two counties and got more than 50 percent of the vote in 13 of them. Rodriguez' high-mark, in percentage terms, came in Maverick County, where he got 38 percent. Independent Craig Stephens got 2.7 percent of the vote; the six Democrats in the race got a combined 48.6 percent. The Democrats got 111 more votes together than the Republican got alone.

And in Pearland, voters will pick a successor a week later to state Rep. Glenda Dawson, a Republican who died in September but won reelection in November in HD-29. Candidates are still signing up for that one, and it could be decided next month, or in a runoff in January should one be required. Dawson, who died too late in the season for her name to be removed from the general election ballot, got 60.4 percent of the vote. Anthony Dinovo, a Democrat who plans to run in the special election, got the rest. Two Republicans are in so far, both of them from Pearland: Michael O'Day and Randy Weber.

Resistible Forces, Moveable Objects

State budgeteers will set a limit on state spending next week, even as they plot to spend far more than that limit.

The trouble — see last week's issue for the entire autopsy — is the state's roughly $11 billion tab for lowering local school property taxes.

Next week, the members of the Legislative Budget Board will choose from five estimates of personal income growth. Those cover average personal incomes in Texas over the next two years and range, roughly, from 13 percent to 17 percent. The bet here (based on what they've done their last two times at bat) is that the members of the LBB will choose the low estimate. That amount — just under 13 percent — would allow discretionary state spending to grow by $7 billion to $9 billion in the next budget.

See the trouble? School finance is $11 billion, meaning the Lege would probably bust the cap even without adding to the budget for increases in public school enrollment, health and human services caseloads, prisons, economic development, border security, and all that.

The exact numbers won't be available for a while. The LBB posted its meeting for next week but hasn't posted the five estimates it'll choose from. And the dollar amounts won't be firm until the comptroller lets loose her official estimate of revenues for the next two years. Comptroller-elect Susan Combs won't be sworn in until January; numbers you can use will follow that. The back-of-the-envelope numbers are in the $7 billion to $9 billion range. 

To make the tax swap fit, lawmakers will have to cut other spending or vote to break the spending limit. That's legal, but some think it's the sort of vote that could cause political trouble back home. On the other hand, some lawmakers think the property tax cut is more than enough cover for that spending vote.

Early estimates — these are from the number-crunchers out there and not the politicians — are that it would cost $4 billion to $8 billion more to keep doing the things the state does now and accommodate growth. And those same folks expect the state to start with as much as $15 billion that's not already committed for the next budget.

Budget Notes:

• Lawmakers ended the special session earlier this year with about $80 million in headroom in the current budget, but that's grown to $500 million or so because of vetoed spending that was tucked elsewhere in the budget.

• Not all of the new school spending is for tax relief. Budgeteers added $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion in new education spending to sweeten the pot for reluctant senators and representatives. That's part of the new spending this time, and a reason that some of the money folk think the spending cap could be in trouble even without school finance in the puzzle.

• Lawmakers will face a supplemental appropriations bill to approve spending in the current biennium that isn't in the current budget. But unlike big supplemental bills in recent sessions, the budgeteers think this one will be relatively small — under $60 million.

• The vote on the spending cap wouldn't be needed if last spring's school tax swap had been done in the form of a constitutional amendment, as the Senate originally proposed. But the House didn't have the two-thirds majority needed, which means the money raised by the new business tax can be used for local property tax relief. It doesn't require that, however. Future legislators aren't obligated to stick to this deal.

• This spending limit is just one of four in the state constitution. Lawmakers can't spend more than they have, a provision referred to as "pay as you go." Cash assistance to needy Texans can't exceed 1 percent of the budget. And debt service can't exceed 5 percent of the general revenue portion of the budget. None of those caps is under real pressure this time, though the first one will probably cause some alarm in a couple of months. Lawmakers aren't allowed to even file a budget bill that calls for more money than the comptroller says will be available. So that initial budget will assume the spending cap is in place and that state programs will have to be cut by some $2 billion to $4 billion.

• Look hard and you'll find some members trying to find a way around the vote on the cap. It's too late for a constitutional amendment to save them. And it's unlikely they'll find a way to define the tax swap money out of the state constitution's definition of discretionary spending. A higher cap on spending would work. But to fit the numbers above, the LBB would have to find an economist who thinks average personal income in the state will grow more than 29 percent over the next two years.

A Cautionary Tale

Outsourcing hasn't saved the state any money, according to the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. That group, which advocates for low and moderate income Texans and which fought privatization when it the Legislature considered it, now says it hasn't worked.

In a 60-page report available on their website, CPPP says the state hasn't yet saved money since it outsourced health and human services eligibility services, and says clients of the state programs in the mix have been slighted and denied benefits along the way. The report applauds some parts of the modernizing and outsourcing program but says the state put cost savings ahead of services. And it's critical of the state's contract with Accenture to set up and run the system, saying that contract doesn't adequately protect clients.

They end it with a couple of pages of recommendations, saying states should start with pilot programs before going full-tilt into privatization, plan carefully, and provide enough funding to make changes work.

Candid Cameras

Remember the rumor that San Antonio's James Leininger and/or other voucher supporters and lobbyists were in the House's back hall to push members to vote for a voucher bill in May 2005? There are security cameras back there, and the Texas Observer filed an open records request to look at the video to see whether anyone interesting was back there twisting arms.

The Department of Public Safety runs those cameras, and they claimed the tapes were protected by Homeland Security laws because releasing them would reveal too much about Capitol security. Attorney General Greg Abbott sided with the Observer, and DPS sued.

There's no official ruling yet, but state District Judge Stephen Yelenosky sent a letter to the lawyers on both sides telling them the tapes are public records and should be disclosed. It might reveal something about the security system, but the judge said the law doesn't make exception for that. "If the legislature intends to make otherwise public information secret because it was gathered through a means that reveals security information, it must do so explicitly," he wrote.

An official ruling — and a decision from DPS about whether to appeal — will follow.

Political People and Their Moves

Billy Hamilton, chief clerk for comptrollers Carole Keeton Strayhorn and John Sharp and one of the most respected people in state government, is leaving  that agency at the end of the month. Comptroller-elect Susan Combs, who'll take office in January, will start working on her transistion early next month. She hasn't said who she'll hire as deputy comptroller to replace Hamilton. Hamilton's on his way to the private sector after eight years at the agency. Hamilton held the post for the first seven years of Sharp's tenure in office — consulted in the private sector for a year — and was lured back by Strayhorn. He was a researcher and revenue estimator for then-Comptroller Bob Bullock, and worked for an accounting firm before coming back to work for Sharp. Hamilton says he'll do some consulting and some legislative work, as well as some projects in other states. He won't be haunting the halls where he's now the top manager — for the first year after they leave, agency employees have to keep their mitts off of anything they handled while on the state payroll. For Hamilton, that's just about everything the agency does. For similar reasons, he doesn't have any work lined up. He can't do that until he's off the payroll. Hamilton is nationally known for his work on performance reviews in Texas, California, and for the federal government, and for his work on tax policy, agency management, and related issues.

Rob Johnson will move into the office now occupied by Bruce Gibson, replacing the former legislator as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Gibson, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, is moving back into the private sector, at least in part because that's a better vantage point to set up Dewhurst's expected 2010 race for governor. After he left the House, he worked as a lobbyist for a business group and then Reliant Energy before returning in 2003 to run Dewhurst's state operation. Johnson's been the deputy chief and Dewhurst's executive assistant since the lieutenant governor took office in 2003.

Agriculture Commissioner-elect Todd Staples says Drew DeBerry will be his deputy commissioner and Shannon Wickliffe Rusing will be the agency's chief of staff when Staples takes office in January. DeBerry is now the deputy chief of staff in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the former White House liaison to that agency. Back in the day, he was a legislative staffer here in Texas; he's an Olton native and a Texas Tech grad. Rusing is the chief of staff in Staple's Senate office now and will move over when he does. She's worked for him since 1995, and is a University of Texas grad.

Carleton Turner, the Texas Senate's Sergeant-at-Arms for the past two decades, is retiring at the end of the year. He started as an assistant in 1983 and became the jefe in 1986. Turner isn't sure what's next; right now, he's trying to grow grapes and probably savoring the idea that the Legislature is coming back in January and he won't have to babysit. That's one of a handful of jobs filled by the Senate itself; senators will elect his replacement when they convene next year.

Two doctors are in the running to head the Texas Departmnt of State Health Services: Philip Huang, who already works at the agency, and David Lakey, who's now at the UT Health Center in Tyler. Dr. Eduardo Sanchez left the agency earlier this year, and the search for a replacement is down to these two. Huang runs the agency's Bureau of Disease, Injury and Tobacco Prevention. Lakey is medical director of the Center for Pulmonary and Infectious Disease Control and the Public Health Laboratory at UT-Tyler.

Donovan Burton joins SAWS (San Antonio Water System) as legislative affairs manager. He'd been working for Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, and will remain in Austin for the new gig.

Sarah Wheat leaves NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, where she was executive director, for a new job as public affairs director at Planned Parenthood Texas Capital Region. NARAL is doing a search for a replacement.

Quotes of the Week

Kinky Friedman, reflecting on the elections in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The people didn't really speak. They mumbled. That's the problem."

His campaign manager, Dean Barkley, in that same story: "If I had known the voter turnout was going to be what it was, I wouldn't have bothered to come down here. Let's face it, Texas voter turnout is pathetic."

U.S. Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Coppell, quoted in The Dallas Morning News about Democrats taking over Congress: "I'm apprehensive about it. I've never been in the minority in this kind of a partisan atmosphere. You don't get to carry bills. You don't get recognized in committee. You're not inconsequential, but you don't get handed the ball very much."

Departing state Rep. Peggy Hamric, R-Houston, quoted in an Austin American-Statesman story on the biennial race for better digs — like hers — at the state Capitol: "You want to feel appreciated, but you know everyone is waiting for you to leave so they can get your office."

Flower Mound resident Jack Stuffleram, quoted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from a hearing on property taxes: "Elected officials would rather drink hemlock than raise tax rates. When appraisals go up, they can get more tax revenue and get off the hook by saying they didn't raise the tax rate."

Dallas County Judge-elect Jim Foster, telling the Dallas Observer he almost didn't run for the job: "I was hoping we could find another person. I thought it was a crime to leave that office uncontested."

Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 23, 27 November 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2006 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 (512) 302-5703 or email For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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