A $176.5 billion budget — 5.9 percent smaller than the current budget — won approval from the Senate Finance Committee right and will come to a full Senate vote after the Easter break.
The Senate plan is almost $12 billion larger than the budget approved earlier by the House. Both would cut current spending. Unlike the House version, the Senate would use up to $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
The vote was 11-4, with Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, Dan Patrick of Houston, John Whitmire of Houston and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo voting against it. All but Patrick are Democrats. Two Democrats — Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen and Royce West of Dallas — voted for the bill.
The chairman of the committee, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the Senate version spends more money on nursing homes, on public education and on Medicaid. "It doesn't generously meet the needs of Texans, but I think it's adequate," Ogden said. He said he wasn't spending more to set up a compromise in coming negotiations with the House. "I'm going to fight for this bill," he said. And even with the higher numbers, winning Senate approval isn't certain. It takes two-thirds of the Senators to bring the budget up for consideration next week, and the panel had to put enough spending in the plan to bring along some Democrats. Even with two of his committee's Democrats on board, Ogden sees opposition ahead. "We're not gonna suspend, 31 to nothing," he said.
Hinojosa, the committee's vice chairman, compared the various proposals to a famous western. "HB 1 is Ugly. The Senate bill is Bad, but sometimes we have to make hard choices." He never got to Good, but said the Senate bill is an improvement over the House version. "The pain is bearable, as opposed to House Bill 1, where the pain is unbearable."
The committee vote sets up an interesting bit of math for Ogden and others looking to get this thing out of the Senate. They need 21 votes. They picked up two Democrats on the committee — Hinojosa and West — but they also lost a Republican. Now they have to grab another Democrat who'll vote in favor of a budget that, while it's more generous than the House version, still cuts Medicaid and public education, among other things. Or get Patrick back. Or something. The bill isn't eligible for a floor vote until Wednesday, so they've got time to work. And the redistricting maps will appear, we're told, after the budget is out. There may be some chips there for bargaining.
The House version would spend a total of $164.5 billion. Senate Finance's version totals $176.5 billion. The current budget totals $187.5 billion. Spending from state sources — general revenue — comes to $80.7 billion in the Senate plan, as against $77.6 billion in the House plan and $82.1 billion in the current budget.
The Senate's biggest cuts, compared with current spending, come in health and human services, which would get $7.8 billion less. Ogden said the budget leaves Medicaid spending about $3 billion short of what current law requires. But with changes afoot in Washington on health care and Medicaid, he said current law could change before the money is needed. If it doesn't, the state will have the money. "That's why we need to leave some money in the Rainy Day Fund," he said. That sort of time shifting has become common in the state budget. The true spending totals are known and will likely come due before the two-year budget is over, but they're not included at the outset and thus don't count against the amount of money the comptroller is willing to certify now. Ogden's also hoping an improving economy will boost revenue and also the Rainy Day balance and that some of the current hand wringing is unnecessary. Still, put around $3 billion in the accounts payable basket for Medicaid.
According to an analysis prepared by the Senate, the upper chamber's version makes smaller cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates than the House, provides $200 million more for mental health services, and restores proposed cuts to foster care programs. It puts $4.3 billion more into public schools, $400 million more for textbooks and makes smaller cuts to teacher retirement and health plans than the House. Almost $200 million more would go to TEXAS Grants. The Department of Public Safety would get $249 million more than in the House version, and prisons would get $358 million more — enough, according to the analysis, to maintain current probation and capacity needs in prisons.
Ogden put off a vote on legislation that would fill a $4.3 billion deficit in the current budget, saying the numbers could be adjusted in the next few weeks and that it's prudent to wait. Some of the numbers are soft, he said, saying the hold isn't a negotiating ploy or anything devious.
Also ahead: a vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to tax business income without triggering a prohibition against personal income taxes. Members of partnerships — law firms are an example — could be taxed as other businesses are taxed. His idea is to get rid of the current business tax and return to the tax it replaced. That one was a disguised income tax. One complaint about the margins tax is that, like the property tax and the sales tax, businesses have to pay it whether or not they're having a profitable year. Partners and proprietors contended it was an unconstitutional income tax. Ogden's amendment would end the argument. Nobody likes income taxes, except when they do.
Ogden said most businesses would prefer the old tax to the new one, and said the state needs to find new revenue. The current business margins tax produces $2 billion less per year than its authors hoped for, he said. It was meant to cover the cost of lowering local school property taxes and of almost $6 billion in other school spending approved in 2006, and, in Ogden's words, "We either have to address that or let property taxes rise that much."
Still Out There
The Senate didn't tap all of the items on their long list of revenue producers, and there are still some nervous folks out there (like that group of natural gas lobbyists hanging around Senate Finance for the last few days). They're watching to see what happens to the exemption on high-cost gas production (nothing, so far). The Legislative Budget Board also researched several other options for raising or saving money that didn't make it into the agency's Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report and, in an email to members of the House Appropriations Committee this week, they put some of those on the table. Among them: Changing the sales tax payment schedule, imposing a penny-per-ounce tax on soft drinks, extending to satellite TV providers a tax already paid by companies that send their signal over wires instead of through the air, and putting a provider tax on nursing facilities.
Addition and Subtraction
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has long warned her colleagues in the upper chamber that any budget is contingent on the Legislature passing a school finance package. This week, along with its budget proposal, the Senate Finance Committee passed SB 22, outlining just how cuts should be distributed across the districts — and reducing the state's obligation to districts by about $4 billion.
Shapiro's legislation puts $5.3 billion back into the Foundation School Program, which funds schools' basic operations. It also provides $400 million for textbooks and discretionary grant programs like pre-kindergarten.
That $5.3 billion comes from SB 22's elimination of "target revenue," the hold-harmless agreement the Legislature made in 2006 when it reduced the property tax rate and guaranteed that districts would get no less than the amount they received per student at the time. If a district ends up with less than its target revenue number after the current formulas in the Foundation School Program run, the state makes up the difference — something it does for about 900 districts, according to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.
By doing away with the target revenue agreement, Shapiro freed up more funds to distribute to schools through cost-based formulas. But it still means that districts — those that have been enjoying target-revenue windfalls in particular — will end up with considerably less state funding. Shapiro estimates those cuts will range from 1 to 8 percent across districts, with an average of about 5 to 7 percent.
The superintendents of the state's largest districts, apparently aware of grimmer alternatives, testified in favor of the bill. Dallas Independent School District will face cuts of about 7 to 8 percent each year of the biennium, said superintendent Michael Hinojosa, but he said it was still the "best plan we've seen all year." David Anthony, of Harris County's Cypress Fairbanks ISD, called it a "significant advancement" compared to the proposals in the House.
The House's public education committee recently considered two proposals from vice chairman Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. HB 2484 undoes the 2006 property tax compression, allowing local taxes to make up for reduced state funding. That would allow districts to "slide up" to the tax rates in place before the 2006 compression — and permit them to do that without holding the local elections currently requires for tax increases above a certain level.
Like Shapiro's bill, Hochberg's second proposal eliminates target revenue. It also increases the amount of local revenue subject to recapture, or Robin Hood, and modifies or eliminates funding boosts for small districts, gifted and talented students and career and technology programs.
A bill from the committee's chairman, Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing, but it also removes target revenue and reduces the basic entitlement districts receive from the state.
Gov. Rick Perry's emergency items — voter ID, sanctuary cities, sonograms for women getting abortions, a federal balanced budget amendment, and eminent domain protection — haven't passed yet. While some are rolling, one of the most controversial could languish in the House Calendars Committee until the sun sets on the current session.
The contentious voter ID bill that nearly derailed the 2009 session still caused uproar among Democrats this time around. But their effect against the bill, which requires voters to show an approved ID before casting a ballot, reflected their dwindled ranks after last year's election. The House passed the Senate version of SB 14, by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, last month. It's comfortably in conference committee now. The same is true of the eminent domain bill, SB 18, by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. It would prohibit eminent domain unless it's determined the land in question will be used for public use. That's also on its way to conference.
Rep. Sid Miller's HB 15 would require women seeking an abortion to get a sonogram and hear a description of the fetus before the procedure. But the Stephenville Republican's bill is caught up in a bit of a stalemate over how long a woman would be asked to wait after the sonogram to have the abortion performed. Miller's bill has a 24-hour waiting period, whereas Sen. Dan Patrick's version, SB 14, requires only two hours. Patrick meddled in the House speaker's race before the session began, and his bill, though passed by the Senate, hasn't come up for discussion in the House. A compromise on Miller's bill has it on next week's Senate Intent Calendar.
Calling on the U.S. Congress to submit to the states for ratification a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution seems lower on the priority scale, despite Perry's continued attack on the way the federal government conducts business. Senate Joint Resolution 1, by state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, passed out of committee in February and was voted out of the Senate a week later. It has yet to see action in the House, where a companion bill is also pending.
Perry made abolishing "sanctuary cities" — the common term for entities that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status — a sticking point when he ran for his third term as governor against former Houston Mayor Bill White. So it surprised no one when he put that on the emergency item list as well. But it's stuck. HB 12, by Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit governmental entities from preventing law enforcement personnel from asking about the citizenship of the people they stop. The legislation, a potential vehicle for other immigration-related issues that haven't been moving at all, has been sitting in the Calendars Committee for a month.
A Parting Gift
When University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell hired higher education reform advocate Rick O'Donnell as $200,000-per-year an advisor, it sparked an outcry at UT Austin. ODonnells employment at the system was abruptly terminated this week after an internal letter surfaced in which he alleged that the higher ups were suppressing public data from being released. However, while he may be gone, the forces that brought him to the UT System remain.
"My experience in public life, including as a head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, has taught me that reform of complex systems is difficult and the forces of the status quo are always strong," ODonnell said in a statement after his ouster. "While it was not my choice to depart at this time, I am hopeful that the commitment to improving the productivity of the UT System will continue for the sake of taxpayers and the sake of students."
Beyond his high salary, much of the concern about ODonnell centered on writings he did while a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank. In those, he questioned the value of much of the academic research being conducted in the state as well as the current system of accreditation. That's in line with seven breakthrough solutions promoted by higher education reform advocate and TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer and Gov. Rick Perry at a summit of university regents in 2008.
E-mails indicate that the push for these controversial reforms has continued beyond the initial summit. As recently as September 1, 2010, Barry McBee, the vice chancellor for governmental relations for the UT System, wrote to his colleagues that the governors staff had confirmed that the seven reforms are still at the top of their list for consideration.
At the Texas A&M University System, the implementation of the reforms, much to the dismay of faculty, led to the creation of a red and black spreadsheet of all faculty members showing how much money they brought into the university minus their salary. Faculty members who cost money were shown in red, and those who generated profits were in black.
UT System officials have insisted they won't produce a red and black report. However, they acknowledged that similar data is indeed being collected. And O'Donnell made sure everyone who might be interested knows where to look. "My belief is that these data, which rightfully belong to the public, should be fully released, not only so the task force may analyze it but also so the public and outside experts may do so as well," he wrote in his letter.
In a joint statement, the system and the University of Texas at Austin, denied that they were suppressing it. "The data, which is now in raw, draft format, is being analyzed as part of the task force process," they wrote, referring to their recently created task force on university productivity and excellence.
According to the statement, once that data is in its final form, it will be reviewed by the chancellor, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and board executives. Then it will be reviewed with each university presidents, after which it will be shared with the entire board.
And, presumably, with the rest of us.
Now It's Personal
Republican Harvey Hilderbran and the House Redistricting Committee's four Democrats were the only votes against a new political map for the Texas House. That map, by an 11-5 vote, is on its way to the full House for consideration next week (Wednesday, at this writing).
They were voting on a new map proposed by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, that's a variation on his earlier plan to institutionalize the Republican majority in the Texas House. He said it would add two Latino opportunity districts to the total in his earlier plan.
Solomons said — as he's been saying all along — that this isn't the final map. And he and others expect a series of amendments when the plans go to the full House next week. Solomons' map is strongly tilted in Republicans' favor, reflecting the 101-49 GOP majority in the House. But it doesn't protect all of those Republicans from Democratic voters, and both Republicans and Democrats are expected to ask for changes.
The committee voted down a change in Hidalgo County that would have largely restored districts now represented by Aaron Peña, a Republican, and Veronica Gonzales, a Democrat. The new map gives Peña more Republicans than are in his current district; the amendment would have helped Gonzales.
And they approved a change in Williamson County that gets rid of splits in several cities there. But the map still connects Milam County to the east of Williamson and Burnet County to the west by means of a strip running through Williamson. Hilderbran has been arguing for days that the scheme takes away Burnet County's ability to elect its own representative; he was the only Republican who voted against the plan. The panel, on a party-line vote, disapproved of an alternate plan forwarded by MALDEF and other Latino groups. It would have created more Latino seats than the Solomons' plan, but not as many safe Republican districts.
We got a light turnout in this week's survey of insiders; must've been the budget and the holiday. Maybe they're spooked by redistricting, the subject of the week. More than half — 53 percent — think lawmakers won't finish the political maps, and that the chores will be left to the courts (in the case of congressional redistricting, and to the Legislative Redistricting Board (in the case of House and Senate districts).
But the wheels are turning; the House will vote on a redistricting plan next week, and Senate mapmakers say they'll be ready to do as soon as the budget is off of the floor. That's also slated for next week.
The insiders do have opinions about this stuff. Their full answers are available at this link, and here's a sampling:
With six weeks left in the legislative session, the House map is moving, but Senate and Congressional maps haven't been unveiled. Will lawmakers enact maps this year or leave redistricting to the courts and the Legislative Redistricting Board?
• "I don't see how Governor Perry can let the courts draw the congressional maps, based on the 2003 precedent. But the LRB will probably draw the House & Senate maps."
• "The House has time to get maps drawn, since they've put away the stocks and guillotine and gotten their budget done. The Senate knows how to move fast. They'll for sure get their own maps done. No way do these guys want to let 4 statewides and the Speaker determine their move-up fates. I bet the Congressional map is already almost agreed-to."
• "Congressional maps will not be completed."
• "They've not successfully completed a plan in 40 years, why should this year be any different?"
• "If history is any guide, LRB and the courts will finish the job."
• "The republicans have worked for 30 years to have the opportunity to position themselves to draw boundaries and they are way to savvy let the courts rob them of their right to pack, dilute and generally screw over Democrats. Best case for Democrats is that the courts draw the map."
Redistricting maps for the Texas House of Representatives are public now. What do you think about the maps, the winners and losers, and the silliest and cleverest features?
• "Harris County is a loser."
• "Obviously, House Dems can't be forced much further down. Pairing Hochberg and Vo is purely illegal, but that solution among Republicans in rural Texas is a good move."
• "Winners - FOJS, East Texas, Hispanics, Austin. Losers - West Texas, Wayne Christian."
• "Silliest--the new HD149... Losers--Hispanic D's. They picked the wrong cycle for Solomon Ortiz, Jr. and others to lose."
• "Silliest is the west Texas district and the second silliest is the Williamson county district."
• "Republicans are overestimating the number of safe districts"
• "The R's are a little tough on Joe Driver and Linda Harper Brown."
• "The map approved by the committee is designed, not surprisingly, to retain the maximum number of GOP incumbents possible. Winners are the suburbs, who continue to see their influence grow, while rural Texas is the big loser. The partisan battle for the suburbs of Texas, which are becoming far more diverse than they used to be, will decide the state's future political direction. Republicans are in position to hang on to power for a while, but this reapportionment is likely their last big grab."
• "Looks like an 'act of Solomon', devious, clever and sometimes mean."
• "Republicans are the biggest losers. That map takes away 9 House seats. Pairs only one set of Democrats. And having Cooke County in a district that is essentially one hour away from NM is nuts."
Texas is getting four new congressional seats and redrawing the maps for the congressional delegation. Who in the Legislature will run for Congress in the next election cycle?
• "Todd Hunter"
• "James White! And look for Patrick Rose to get in"
• "Sen. Lucio or Rep. Lucio will run."
• "Castro, Taylor"
• "I was just over at the Capitol...it seems they all are."
• "Lyle Larson, Todd Hunter, Harvey Hildebrand, Van Taylor, Carol Alvarado"
• "Show me some lines and I'll show you some candidates."
• "Ken Paxton, Aaron Pena,"
• "On the Democratic side it is hard to tell how the seats will be appealed and redrawn in time for all the eventual prospects to know if they can run... That said there is a strong case for a Hispanic Congressional seat in D-FW... ... Roberto Alonzo ... Joaquin Castro... Mike Villarreal"
• "Eddie Lucio Jr. ... Aaron Peña... Jane Nelson... Dan Patrick"
The Week in the Rearview Mirror
Gov. Rick Perry has asked the federal government for assistance as wildfires rage across Texas. The fires have already burned more than 1.5 million acres, and the Texas Forest Service is stretched thin trying to contain the blazes and protect the hundreds of homes that are under threat. Dry and windy conditions across the state aren't expected to help the situation.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's environmental agency, survived its sunset review and got a green light from the House to continue operating through 2023. The agency was given the authority to levy an increased maximum daily fine of $25,000 per pollution violation, up from $10,000. Amendments to the bill included shifting the burden of proof on controversial permits to the party that contests it and an amendment cutting fees on the delivery of petroleum products. Failed amendments would have reworded the agency's mission to exclude a phrase about economic development and another preventing commissioners from lobbying for companies they formerly regulated. The bill is strongly opposed by environmental groups.
NRG Energy announced that it will write off its investment in the expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project, whose future was thrown into doubt in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. NRG sought a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and loan guarantees from the government, which CEO David Crane insists it will continue to pursue in the hope that market conditions improve if and when the furor over the nuclear crisis in Japan dies down.
Potential scam phone calls received by state employees whose personal information may have been compromised prompted a warning from the attorney general's office. About 3.5 million Texans' private data was left exposed on servers in the Texas comptroller's office and is now seen as vulnerable to scams in which callers pose as employees of state agencies and ask individuals to verify their Social Security numbers. Attorney General Greg Abbott's office made recommendations for those who think their information has been compromised and publicized an 800 number for them to inform the AG if they receive suspicious calls.
Political People and Their Moves
Gov. Rick Perry appointed four members to the Texas Medical Board. Julie Attebury of Amarillo is a senior business consultant with the West Texas A&M University Small Business Development Center. Stanley Wang of Austin is a clinical cardiologist and director of legislative affairs for Austin Heart. George Willeford III of Austin is a physician and founding partner of Austin Gastroenterology. Irvin Zeitler of San Angelo is vice president of medical affairs at Shannon Medical Center, and a staff physician at the Shannon Minor Emergency Treatment Center.
He appointed Anthony Burks of Fort Worth to the Manufactured Housing Board. Burks is president and co-founder of Vendigm Companies LLC.
The Guv appointed six members to the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors. Cynthia Cindy Olson Bourland of Round Rock is an attorney in private practice. Christopher Adams Jr. of Granbury is a retired U.S. Air Force major general, former associate director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a published author. Robert Christian of Jewett is a retired professional engineer and retired U.S. Army colonel. Christopher DeCluitt of Waco is president of the Sovereign Corporation. Carolyn Johnson of Freeport is a retired environmental consultant with Dow Chemical Company. Jean Killgore of Somerville is a rancher and former legislative assistant to senators Tower and Goldwater, and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Perry appointed six members to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority Board of Directors. Robert Rusty Brockman is director of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce Inc. Oscar Fogle of Lockhart is owner of Oak Hill Ranch and a retired employee of Exxon Corp. Arlene Marshall of Port Lavaca is president of the Calhoun County Economic Development Corporation and former Calhoun County judge. Thomas Tommy Mathews II of Boerne is president of Westward Environmental Inc. Myrna Patterson McLeroy of Gonzales is owner of McLeroy Land Group. Dennis Patillo of Victoria is president of Stewart Title of the Coastal Bend Inc.
The governor named three members to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Lauren Polunsky Dreszer of San Antonio is an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Polunsky and Beitel LLP. Etienne Nguyen of Houston is vice president of Washington Financial Services. Glynda Corley of Round Rock is a self-employed licensed professional counselor.
Gov. Rick Perry named Thomas Butler of Deer Park chair and appointed three members to the Credit Union Commission. Butler is a systems analyst and president of Butler and Co. and Media Acquisitions Corp. Manuel Manny Cavazos IV is a self-employed attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), and rancher. Sherri Merket of Midland is an administrative assistant at Hillander Private School. Gary Tuma of Sugar Land is president and CEO of Smart Financial Credit Union.
Finally, Perry appointed 10 student regents to their respective university systems, and one student representative to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Higher Education Coordinating Board: Amir Barzin is pursuing a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) in Fort Worth. Texas A&M University: Fernando Trevino Jr. is pursuing a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in public service and administration. Midwestern State University: Linda Aguilera is pursuing a bachelors degree in criminal justice. Stephen F. Austin State University: Sarah Feye is pursuing a bachelors degree in food, nutrition and dietetics. Texas Southern University: Steven Champion is pursuing a masters degree in public administration. Texas State University: Ryan Bridges is pursuing a bachelors degree in business administration, and plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration. Texas Tech University: Jill Fadal is pursuing a medical degree and a Master of Business Administration. Texas Womans University: Christina Wagoner is pursuing bachelors degrees in English and history. University of Houston: Tamecia Harris is pursuing a law degree and a Master of Business Administration. University of Texas: John Davis Rutkauskas is pursuing bachelors degrees in business administration, finance and French.
Injured reserves: Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, tore his Achilles Tendon in the House's intramural football game; doctors told him that, after his surgery, he's not supposed to put that foot on the ground for six weeks.
One of the houses lost in the fires around Possum Kingdom Lake belonged to Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. No one was hurt.
Rick O'Donnell is no longer with the University of Texas System.
Quotes of the Week
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, on his committee's proposed state budget: "That budget saves public education. It saves the nursing home industry in Texas. It takes care of Medicaid patients. The House budget does not. We know how to balance this budget, so the debate is whether you want to save public education and whether you want to save nursing homes, or not. And I think we're right. And we're going to fight for it."
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on the Senate's inclusion of $4 billion more for public education in the budget than the lower chamber: "If we're going to continue the heroic effort, the Senate will have to stand up and hold the line."
A proclamation from Gov. Rick Perry, declaring a statewide weekend of prayer for rain: "I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life."
Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, after freshman Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, knocked three bills off of the House's Local and Consent Calendar: "If he doesn't want to have a relationship with anybody around, or if he thinks not going up and talking to authors before he knocks a bill off is the right way to go, that's his business, not mine."
Simpson, after seeing the reactions of his colleagues: "It's been a little lonely up there today."
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on whether he would refute Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's false claim that abortions account for 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's services, at a TribLive event: "I went on Planned Parenthood's website yesterday to see if I could get some good information. I came up empty."
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, on concerns that his proposal to designate seven Mexican cartels as "foreign terrorist organizations" could hinder the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico: "The relationship is important, but that's not all of it. Let's not put that above good policy. We have to have an honest discussion about what is happening down there."
Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, on allowing the El Paso County Hospital District to hire peace officers due to its proximity to violence-plagued Ciudad Juárez, in the El Paso Times: "The hospital district would feel a lot more secure if it had its own peace officers on the premises, available at any given moment in time."
Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, on why he felt compelled to switch parties following the 2010 elections, in Texas Monthly: "As a Democrat, I wasn't allowed to express myself. I was half of an individual. When I became a Republican, I became a full individual."
U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas and 2002 candidate for U.S. Senate, in USA Today: "If there's a definition of an optimist, it's a black Democrat in Texas."
Contributors: Julián Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Lockett, David Muto and Morgan Smith
Texas Weekly: Volume 28, Issue 16, 25 April 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 email@example.com. For news, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (512) 716-8611.