The House Appropriations Committee, on a party-line vote, advanced the next state budget, sending to the full House a bill that spends $164.5 billion — about $23 billion less than state officials say they need to maintain current services.
It leaves public schools about $8 billion short of what they'd normally expect under current funding formulas, shorts Medicaid by $6 billion, and would cut about 8,000 full-time jobs from the state's payroll. The all funds number is $23 billion short of current spending, a drop of about 12.3 percent.
General revenue spending would drop $4.5 billion, or 5.5 percent, from the current budget. Members can file amendments until Monday.
The House plans to consider the supplemental appropriations bill and a $3.1 billion dip into the Rainy Day Fund on Wednesday — that's to close the deficit in the current budget — and then the 2012-13 budget on Friday, April 1.
The Senate goes next and then the two sides can reconcile their differences — the real writing of the budget — during the final weeks of the session.
A Little Less Skimpy
A day later, the Senate Finance Committee voted 13-2 to add $5.7 billion to their initial proposal for public education spending.
"The base bill was absolutely not acceptable... and there was no one that disagreed with that," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. "We did the best we could and put a significant amount of money back in."
It's still about $4 billion below current funding levels, and there's no money for the 80,000 new students expected to hit public schools next year. Of the total, $5.3 billion will go the the Foundation School Program, the primary source of funding for public schools in the state. The rest goes for textbooks and discretionary grants for pre-kindergarten, programs improving high school completion and college readiness, intervention for struggling schools and students, and teacher effectiveness.
Shapiro, who led the subcommittee that considered the education budget, noted that any education funding depends the passage of a school finance reform bill. Without that, she said, "then none of this works."
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, told the committee that he is working on his own school funding proposal addressing the equity issues he saw in the current plan. He'll have that ready within the next few weeks. "Maybe this tough time provides us both the opportunity and the vision to come out of this with a system that is going to systematically serve the public education system in the future," he said.
Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, expressed concern that the cuts still ran too deep and vote no. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, voted in favor of the bill to move it, but said it still falls short.
If the state spends money, it's good for the economy. If it spends less, it's not good for the economy. That's only one side of the equation — the money it's spending comes from somewhere — but it's the side the Legislative Budget Board is required to watch. So that agency's latest assessment of the budget says what it will cost in jobs without measuring the offsetting impact in the private sector, if there is one.
That budget on its way to the full House would cost the state 271,746 jobs in 2012 and 335,244 jobs in 2013, knocking $11.2 billion and $15.2 billion in personal income, respectively, from each of those years.
The two page report (touted by Democrats and others who don't like this budget) had several caveats (touted by Republicans who are trying to hold the line on spending and who don't want to get pinged for killing jobs). To wit: The LBB says many of the jobs lost can be attributed to the national economic recession, since that recession lowered state revenues, which in turn are the reason for the lower spending level in the House proposal.
The dissents, from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus — the two guys who head the LBB — are that the state doesn't have the money to keep that spending up and that raising the funds to maintain spending would be harder on the economy than the budget cuts.
Rep. Burt Solomons hit the gas this week, filing a proposed redistricting map for the State Board of Education and starting hearings in his House Redistricting Committee on what the next House map should look like. He didn't have a map for the latter, which meant most of the seats in the Capitol Auditorium remained empty.
Solomons says he's been collecting maps and requests from members. Several places will be able to write "drop-in" maps for self-contained areas that can be added to the full state map — dropped in — later. Dallas County, where there are 16 incumbents and enough population for only 14 of them, is an example. None of the House districts jumps the county line, so Solomons can leave a square hole there. The survivors can bring him a map in a few weeks.
West Texas has been the subject of a lot of conversation, and the conventional wisdom is that two seats will have to go. But Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, indicated he won't run again, and Tom Craddick, R-Midland, says he's drawn two maps that would give the other incumbents in that part of the state districts from which to run. No pairs. How? He won't say, other than to offer, "It can be done."
Legislative districts, unlike congressional districts, can deviate from precisely even population, but you have to make it up somewhere else. The ideal Texas House district will have 167,637 people in it after redistricting. You could shave more than 8,000 people from each district in West Texas and get to what the former speaker is talking about, but you'd have to get someone somewhere to accept a bigger than optimal district. It's possible, and it's been done, but you have to ask the big district that's giving up some representation: Why'd you do it?
The Senate is fiddling with maps but doesn't have any hearings set (at this writing); at the moment, it looks like congressional mapping could start on that side of the rotunda. The decennial visits from members of the Texas congressional delegation ("Hey, there, how's my best friend?") are well underway. Our favorite sighting: U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, standing behind his former aide, Joe Straus, on the House podium during the Voter ID debate. Smith was talking to Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, who was intently drawing a map in the air for Smith.
Inside Intelligence: Redistricting
The insiders, asked this week about redistricting and how it will affect other issues, are split on the outcome. Slightly more than half — 54 percent — think the Legislative Redistricting Board will have to clean up after the Legislature fails to come up with maps for the House and Senate (congressional maps skip that step and go straight to the courts if lawmakers can't agree on plans).
The Republicans have 101 members in the House and 19 in the Senate, but only 9 percent of the insiders think lawmakers will be able to draw maps that ensure future supermajorities in both the House and the Senate. Almost half — 48 percent — think that effort will fall short in both houses; 10 percent say it'll work in the House and not the Senate, and 20 percent say it'll work in the Senate and not in the House.
How will lawmakers split the four new congressional seats? Most of the insiders — 54 percent — say three of those spots will go to Republicans, while 37 percent think it'll be two for each side.
The full set of verbatim answers to our questions is available in our Files section, but here's a sampling:
Do you think the Legislature will adopt new Texas House and Senate maps, or that the Legislative Redistricting Board will have to do it for them?
• "Everyone will play nice. They don't want the current statewides who are all jockeying for the next new office to be holding them hostage."
• "Why would a House Republican vote for a map with 85 safe R seats? Go explain to your local Republican women's club why that was a good vote. We started with 101 and I voted to help return 85."
• "The Legislature will adopt a House map — the Senate may not be able to adopt a Senate map."
• "Drawing districts for 101 Republicans when the most fevered dreams of Tom DeLay only resulted in the high 80s will be a problem, but the budget will probably eat up so much time and capital that the legislature will have to punt."
• "I think after jacking around with the budget, the members will be more than happy to tackle some self-preservation."
Can Republicans draw maps that would ensure super-majorities of two-thirds or more in the House and Senate?
• "Difficult but not impossible. The real question is; if Republicans use their magic drawing skills and are able to draw a super-majority, for how long can they hold on to those seats? The party has not realized that it's a new Texas with a clear demographic shift."
• "They big hurdle is Voting Rights pre-clearance."
• "Way too risky to try. Could lose 20 House seats as soon as 2012, and 3-4 Senate seats over a decade. Bets strategy is to firm up viable GOP majorities for another 10 years — at least 17 safe senate seats, 80 or so House seats."
• "Only if Obama, Reid and Pelosi continue to endear themselves to the 'average' Texans."
• "That won't happen. The 2010 mid-term elections were an outlier. It would be borderline criminal for Republicans to assume that 101 (only 99 of them elected as R's) House Members is a proper bellwether for Texas' political proclivities."
How will the new congressional seats be split between Republicans and Democrats?
• "Three-quarters of population growth over the last ten years has been among Hispanics. Hispanics are expecting that growth to be recognized with more Hispanic majority seats and will be disappointed if that does not happen. Republicans will not want to look like they are actively trying to suppress the political impact of Hispanics. The two new majority Hispanic districts that will then likely go Democrat in 2012 will look a lot like Martin Frost's old district in the DFW area and an even more Hispanic version of Solomon Ortiz's district around Corpus."
• "The growth of Hispanics and their protested class status and their affinity for the Democrats will insure two seats go to them."
• "Either 2-2, or 3-1 Republican, depending on how aggressive the Republicans decide they can be."
• "I think 2-2 is the likely split, given Bill Flores and Quico Canseco sitting in formerly D seats. It will be hard, but not impossible, for the mappers to protect Blake Farenthold. Throw those 3 seats in with the 4 new ones, and I think all but the most fire-breathing fire-breathers would be thrilled with 4 or 5 pickups out of 7 seats total."
How will redistricting affect the Legislature's other business?
• "Eat up a lot of time that would otherwise go to other crappy legislation."
• "It will make the budget harder to finish before the end of the regular session."
• "I think the budget is more likely take time and attention away from redistricting than the other way around."
• "There will be a little less lovemaking."
• "Republicans will be more polite worrying that some offense they make will end up costing them their seat. Democrats will be free to be as obnoxious as ever."
• "Redistricting will kill a lot of other bills. Whether members can pass maps or not, they are going to spend a huge chunk of time trying to do so. That means less time for other bills in a session in which the budget has already sucked most of the air out of the room. I am glad to be playing mostly defense this session."
• "It won't."
• "How won't it?"
• "Unclear. I think that significant Republican majority makes it less divisive than the last redistricting cycle. I think that the budget will have a bigger impact on the Legislature's overall business."
• "As soon as maps are released, everything will come to a screeching halt. Getting a budget done will become difficult as it usually is in a redistricting year."
Voter ID: It's Not Over Yet
As Republicans celebrate their first victory in the long road to fixing what they say is the state's busted elections system, Democrats are coming together, licking their wounds and preparing for their next fight — in court.
House Republican Caucus leader, Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said Wednesday's grueling debate over voter ID on the House floor was just the beginning.
"This is an important first step in making sure our elections in Texas are secure," he said at a news conference Thursday morning. Just minutes later, Democrats confirmed what they had hinted at all week, that their next step is to alert the Department of Justice.
"Absolutely," said state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, when asked if his party was gearing up for a legal challenge to the voter ID bill, Senate Bill 14. The bill, authored by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and sponsored in the House by Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, requires voters to show a valid form of ID before casting a ballot and is said to be the most stringent of its kind in the country.
When the bill is signed into law, as is expected after going back to the Senate and possibly to a conference committee after that, Lucio said, his colleagues will allege that the bill will hinder the voting rights of Texans, specifically minorities and the elderly, and violate provisions of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. Lucio pointed to arguments made during Wednesday's nearly 12-hour debate, when Democrats specifically questioned Harless as to whether the bill would adversely affect that constituency. Her remarks were vague or very general on purpose, he said, because opponents were asking that their exchanges be entered into the official House record. It's the same reason Democrats worded their opposition so distinctly — to lay the groundwork for a court battle and have evidence in hand.
It was a foregone conclusion for House Republicans that they would win the battle given their supermajority in the lower chamber. And the morning after the debate, they acknowledged that Democrats actually made some sense in their arguments against the bill.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, argued repeatedly that the bill does nothing to address voter fraud. The problem is with mail-in ballots, he argued, not voter impersonation. Taylor said his party's next steps would be to address those issues, too. He said to expect debate on at least seven additional voting-related bills.
"There is no perfect system. I am sure there is some way that people could cheat," he said.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said he didn't have any idea when the bill would go to conference, assuming the Senate doesn't concur with the amended version of its bill. But he acknowledged there would be movement soon. After all, Gov. Rick Perry did declare the item one of five emergency items this session.
The Week in the Rearview Mirror
The Texas Education Agency says that a disk containing thousands of Laredo students' Social Security numbers is missing. The Laredo ISD sent the data at the request of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas; it included almost 25,000 Social Security numbers of current and former students of the district. While the package was signed for at TEA offices, it never reached its destination — the office of a former director of educational research and policy who is no longer with TEA.
In the latest round of state vs. national environmental regulators, the Railroad Commission voted unanimously against the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that gas driller Range Resources contaminated water wells in North Texas. The commission's investigators stuck by their assessment that a natural geological formation caused the presence of the benzene, methane and other toxic gases found in the wells. A court case is pending as the EPA seeks to enforce its emergency order.
Taking a stand against legislation they say would cost taxpayers too much, El Paso County commissioners took an official vote against four pending immigration related bills in the House. Commissioners and local law enforcement officials see the potential laws as placing too much of a burden on them, and at considerable taxpayer expense. The bills cited would require law enforcement officers to perform various checks of the immigration status of detainees and prisoners.
Hidalgo County is planning to challenge to official census results, claiming that its population was undercounted by hundreds of thousands of people. County officials have hired attorneys to develop a case while also pursuing negotiations with the bureau to revise the population total upward. County officials claim that 95 percent of colonias in the county did not receive standard census forms.
Trying to prepare for massive cuts to their budget, Texas Tech University officials have realigned their administration, eliminating three high-profile positions. The cuts are expected to save Tech half a million dollars per year. Departments under the three affected employees were reassigned, with some of the responsibility now falling directly to the president, Guy Bailey, who announced the changes.
Dan Neil conceded to Democrat Donna Howard in the House District 48 race just days after a House committee turned back his challenge to the November election results. The Republican challenger lost the election by 16 votes. A recount lowered the margin to 12 votes and he took his challenge to the House. Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, was chosen to oversee the challenge and found, after poring through records and interviewing voters, that Howard won by four votes. That finding went to a committee on Tuesday, and the panel voted to stick with Hartnett's conclusion. Neil had the right to take the matter to the full House, but decided not to do so. Now Howard is taking advantage of a loophole in campaign finance laws, which ordinarily ban fundraisers while lawmakers are in session, to raise money to cover the costs of the election recounts and Neil's challenge to the count. She's got an Austin event coming up in the first week of April.
Gov. Rick Perry was fined $1,500 by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to report rental income from a house in College Station, and for filing incomplete information regarding debts on the same property, in personal financial statements required by state law. Perry did not, as the law requires, report income in excess of $500 from rent. According to the Ethics Commission, the total undisclosed income from 2009 and 2010 was between $7,000 and $29,995. Perry also did not disclose all of the debts and the names of banks holding notes and leases on the property.
Bill watch: The Senate version of the Railroad Commission sunset bill cuts the number of commissioners to one from three. The House leaves it at three. The industry is split, as is the commission itself: Michael Williams, who's leaving, thinks it should be a one-commissioner show; Elizabeth Ames Jones and David Porter like it like it is.
Political People and Their Moves
Rob Johnson, who currently serves as Gov. Rick Perry's deputy chief of staff, will depart in April to join Newt Gingrich's presidential exploratory effort as a senior political adviser; if that turns into a real (non-exploratory) campaign, he'll be the campaign manager.
Rick O'Donnell, recently hired as non-teaching special adviser to the University of Texas System Board of Regents in what proved to be a controversial move in parts of the UT Nation, has been reassigned to the position of senior assistant for research. Funding for his new position runs out in August.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Douglas Wilson of Pflugerville as inspector general of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Wilson is deputy inspector general of operations for HHSC and former deputy director of the Attorney's General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
The governor also appointed:
• Elsa Alcala of Houston as judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Alcala is a justice of the 1st Court of Appeals in Harris County and former judge of the 338th District Court there.
• Three members to the Texas State University System Board of Regents. Jaime Garza of San Antonio is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in private practice, a clinical professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center Department of Surgery, and assistant dean of South Texas Programs at the UTHSC School of Medicine. Rossanna Salazar of Austin is managing partner of ROSS Communications Inc., and a former spokeswoman for then-Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry. Donna Williams of Arlington is vice president and program manager of Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Inc.
• Wanda Rohm of San Antonio and Keith Morrow of Southlake to the Texas Department of Information Resources. Rohm is the retired founder and owner of Presto Business Cards Inc. Morrow, who's being reappointed, is a consultant and owner of K. Morrow Associates LLC.
• Three members to the Upper Colorado River Authority. Jeffie Roberts of Robert Lee is a self-employed tax professional and rancher. Hyman Sauer of Eldorado is president and CEO of the First National Bank of Eldorado. Hugh Stone of San Angelo is a rancher. Roberts and Sauer are reappointments.
• Jay Zeidman of Houston to the One Call Board, which has authority over the "Call Before You Dig" systems that notify underground facility operators of excavation plans so that pipelines and utility lines can be marked to prevent accidents. Zeidman is a graduate student at the Rice University Jesse Jones Graduate School of Business.
• D. Joseph "Joe" Meister of Dallas as chairman of the Texas Public Finance Authority. Meister is an attorney with K&L LLP. The governor also appointed Billy Atkinson Jr. of Sugar Land is a certified public accountant and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; Mark Eidman of Austin, a principal at Ryan, a tax consultancy, and a partner at Scott, Douglass and McConnico LLP; and Robert Thomas Roddy Jr. of San Antonio, president and CEO of Bensco Inc., board chairman of Lone Star Capital Bank and former director of the San Antonio branch of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.
• Three members to the Commission on Jail Standards. Allan Cain of Carthage is an independent business property owner and former police officer for the City of Longview. Stanley Egger of Tuscola is Taylor County commissioner, director of First State Bank in Tuscola, and a rancher. Michael Seale of Houston is executive director of health services for the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
Quotes of the Week
Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, during voter ID debate Monday: "If illegal immigrants are really infiltrating elections, they must be voting straight-ticket Republican."
Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, after being asked by Anchia if she was confused and needed him to repeat one of several questions he fired in her direction during the debate over the voter ID bill: "I am a blonde. That happens sometimes."
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, after his committee passed a proposed budget that's $23 billion smaller than the current budget: "I think there's a lot of members of the House who'll say, This is as far as we can go.'"
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, to the San Antonio Express-News, on Gov. Rick Perry: "Since he can't control the process, he's been out playing politics — shoring up his own base and telling the Tea Party that there's a lot more cutting to be done before you go to the Rainy Day Fund. He knows that's not true."
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, in his email newsletter to constituents: "There still has not been a commitment from the leadership to use any of the 'rainy day fund' for the nearly $27 billion projected shortfall in the next biennium. It's becoming pretty clear that folks up here could have used a Dave Ramsey starter kit a few years ago!"
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, on the nation's public schools, quoted by Reuters: "They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism — and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American."
House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Plano, to the Austin American-Statesman on a state prison program that allows inmates to work toward college degrees: "We don't provide free college tuition for anyone else like this, so with the budget crisis we're facing, why should we for convicted felons?"
Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, after learning that a diskette containing the Social Security numbers of every student in the Laredo Independent School District went missing after researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas asked for the information: "Why the hell does UT-Dallas need Social Security numbers from kids in Laredo?"
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, on hobbyists drawing redistricting maps on the Internet, quoted in The Wall Street Journal: "Isn't technology wonderful? Some guy from California drew a map. In Pittsburgh, there are two words for that: 'Who cares?'"
Roland Swenson, executive director of the SXSW festival, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman after four people were hurt by a falling camera boom: "This is our 25th year, and we've never had anyone permanently injured."
Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Lockett, David Muto and Morgan Smith
Texas Weekly: Volume 28, Issue 12, 28 March 2011. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2011 by The Texas Tribune. 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) 716-8600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 716-8611.