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The Brief: April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day! How about celebrating at the first ever meeting of the House Select Committee on Federal Legislation?

HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs testifies before lawmakers.

Happy Earth Day!  How about celebrating at the first ever meeting of the House Select Committee on Federal Legislation?

That’s where the Health and Human Services Commission will be testifying on federal health reform this morning.  It could get interesting, because people are having a hard time agreeing on how much this reform is going to cost.  And we’re not talking minor quibbles — the estimates are tens of billions of dollars apart.

Here’s a little background on the HHSC’s last showdown at a legislative committee, courtesy of the Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw:

HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs estimates that health care reform’s top-dollar items — Medicaid expansion to roughly 2.1 million Texans, plus heightened reimbursement rates for primary care physicians — will cost the state more than $27 billion between 2014 and 2024, up $3 billion from his most recent estimate.  

But the Congressional Budget Office’s numbers are far different. Between 2010 and 2019, the agency estimates, the reform will cost Texas $1.4 billion. A letter written last month by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, notes that Texas’ estimate is more than the $20 billion the reform is expected to cost all state governments combined in the next decade.  

“I don’t know where he went to school and got his math education. But it’s not right,” Suehs said of Waxman, speaking at a joint hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services and State Affairs committees. (The answer? UCLA.) “I can’t rationalize the CBO’s budget numbers when I know that I’ve got a higher population of uninsured than most states have total population.”

Meanwhile, the new select committee is chaired by staunch conservative  John Zerwas, R-Richmond.  His vice chair is the strongly liberal Democratic Houston Rep. Garnet Coleman.  They may be political polar opposites, but both Zerwas and Coleman have plenty of credibility on healthcare issues, and they tell the Austin American-Statesman that they will be able to avoid the partisan bickering that has consumed the health care debate.

Speaking of divisions, a new Rasmussen poll reports that 56 percent of likely Texas voters support suing the federal government to stop health care reform from becoming law.  37 percent oppose the lawsuit.


• Here’s an unlikely player in the school finance debate: the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  They've been dragged into it by the Valero Energy Corporation, which has requested that the commission apply a tax exemption, approved in 1993, to certain auto emission-reducing refinery equipment. With a decision looming, the Austin American-Statesman’s Kate Alexander writes:

Refinery-rich school districts and other local governments are fretting that a decision in favor of Valero could open the floodgates for other companies to seek the same exemption for their equipment.

In the Ingleside school district near Corpus Christi, 85 percent of its property tax revenue comes from two refineries so a broader exemption would devastate the district’s $15 million budget, said Superintendent Troy Mircovich.

In Harris County, such a change could take as much as $1 billion off the property tax rolls, said chief appraiser Jim Robinson, which would reduce revenues for the affected school districts and other local governments by $25 million.

• Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is getting into the spirit of Earth Day.  She will be spending the morning at an unveiling ceremony for the first of 25 hybrid school buses recently purchased by Fort Worth Independent School District.

• Here we go again. As the Tribune's Brian Thevenot reports, African-American and Hispanic state legislators — among the many parties aggrieved by the State Board of Education's highly contested rewriting of social studies standards — announced that they will hold their own separate hearing, unleashing a new torrent of public comment on the matter. Though it won't be able to produce any official action, the hearing will be held on April 28, and will feature the Mexican American Lagislative Caucus, Legislative Study Group, House Black Caucus, and the Senate Hispanic Caucus. 

• DC-based group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington does not think very highly of Republican Gov. Rick Perry.  They released a list  of the 11 “worst governors,” in which they lump Perry in with the scandal-ridden likes of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and New York's Gov. David Paterson, one of two Democrats on the list (the other is next-door neighbor Bill Richardson of New Mexico).

• Convicted for the 2000 robbery, rape and murder of 18-year-old Sophia Martinez in 2000, 31-year old William Josef Berkley’s execution is scheduled for 5 p.m. today.

“But for the actions of the attorney general, there would already be one less same-sex marriage in Texas." — Jody Scheske, an attorney for a man seeking to end his same-sex marriage in Dallas County. Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed a state district judge's October ruling granting the divorce.


A Watershed Case — The Texas Tribune

Case delayed in forensic panel shuffle may finally get its dueAustin American-Statesman

Ailing economy worries Texans, could hurt Perry Houston Chronicle

Rules on natural gas drilling haven't caught up with today's reality, experts say Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The State Board of Ed’s Final Exam — Texas Monthly

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