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The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate and with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers set out to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.
Without that legislation — SB 1811 — the budget doesn't balance and lawmakers will be forced to come back in a special session to deal with the issue. In the House, Democrats fiercely debated the measure before it passed; in the Senate, it was killed by a filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Before the debate, aides to the governor said that if the measure failed, he would call them back for a special session on Tuesday — the day after the regular session ends.
Lawmakers were likely coming back anyway, since the House and the Senate and Gov. Rick Perry couldn't reconcile their differences over reforms to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. The governor doesn't have to call them back for that, but he has said he will.
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Whether they do it now (it's still possible to suspend rules and bring it back) or in a special session, lawmakers have to pass the last fiscal bill to make the next budget work. It contains plenty to argue over. The legislation includes a hybrid school finance plan that spells out how local school districts will fare when the state cuts $4 billion from what it had planned to send them over the next two school years. Lawmakers got those printouts yesterday (we've got them available online in sortable form in our updated school finance app), and have been poring over them to see how their own local districts come out; those results will help them decide whether to support or oppose the plan.
And it contains $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" — deferred payments, accelerated tax collections and accounting tricks — that allows lawmakers to cover spending without tapping the Rainy Day Fund or raising taxes. A proposed speedup of state franchise tax collections — that's the main tax paid by Texas businesses — was taken out of the bill after lawmakers raised objections.
The school formulas cut state funding for districts by like amounts in the first year — its called proration and was the House proposal — and in the second year reduces the allotments that were granted to districts in past school finance remedies to keep the districts from losing money. Now that money is short, lawmakers have decided they can't afford those so-called "hold harmless" deals.
Until Saturday, this was considered the make-or-break legislation of the session. With it passed, lawmakers could go home until the next regular session in 2013. Without it, they'd have to have a special session this summer. But now that the TWIA deal has unraveled, Perry has promised a special session anyway. And he could easily add congressional redistricting to that mix — he's already said he'd call lawmakers back to Austin if there's enough agreement on congressional maps to make a special session short and sweet.
Those are optional; Perry's under no legal obligation to call lawmakers back on either issue.
In the case of the budget, he won't have a choice. If SB 1811 doesn't pass and the budget doesn't balance, lawmakers have to fix it before September 1, when the current budget ends and the new one is supposed to take effect. The budget, approved on Saturday along mostly partisan lines in both the House and the Senate, is $15.2 billion smaller than the current budget, doesn't require major new taxes and doesn't immediately require the state to use its Rainy Day Fund. Budget writers left $4.8 billion in Medicaid spending out of the budget in the hope that economic and program changes will make it unnecessary, but left money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover that spending if needed in 2013.
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Without SB 1811, it doesn't balance.
Jeremy Warren, a spokesman for Sen. Rodney Ellis, confirmed that the Houston Democrat had put a pair of tennis shoes in his bag and placed it near his desk in the event that he decides to talk the school finance bill to death.
Warren also said that Ellis had spoken with former Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin about filibuster rules in preparation for a possible talkathon.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, emerging from a meeting with fellow Democrats, said senators were trying to determine whether it was better to take a deal now or shoot for something better in a special session.
He said he had heard talk of a possible filibuster but said it did not come up in the meeting.
Hochberg: Has this proposal — or anything like it — had ever been discussed in committee?
Hochberg: How long did he spend preparing this proposal? "Would 5 minutes be appropriate?"
Eissler: Not quite.
Democratic senators held a meeting to discuss the school finance bill but did not settle on any coordinated strategy, several said.
"We're keeping an open mind. All options are on the table,'' said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, leader of the Senate Democrats, said the decision about whether to filibuster would be left up to each senator. But she said she did not believe Democrats would get a better deal on school funding in a special session.
"I really don't," she said.
The commission will then have the power to implement the changes it recommends, which some say would allow the Texas DPS to establish new rules. That could mean DPS may deny driver’s licenses to any one for any reason, some fear.
Another line in the bill that raised more than a few eyebrows is: “Notwithstanding any other law, the commission by rule may specify the term of a driver's license or personal identification certificate issued under this chapter.”
“Radical lawmakers failed in their attempts to target immigrants seeking driver's licenses so they are now content to go after all Texas,” the group, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, said in a statement.
Other opponents of the measure say it could adversely affect voter turnout. The new rules could lead to fewer eligible Texans receiving driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs, which are now necessary to cast a ballot.
The language is the same as HR 2685, by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who tried to attach it to a bill concerning hardship licenses.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said that the governor would call a special session next Tuesday if the school finance deal falls apart tonight. He said any issue, which could include the sanctuary cities legislation, would be fair game.
"There are fiscal issues that need to get resolved this evening," Miner said. "If they don't get resolved this evening, the governor is prepared to call a special session for next Tuesday. And when that special session is called, anything that hasn't been resolved is on the table."
Senate members became concerned with language in the resolution that would grant broader authority to the Texas DPS and Public Safety Commission when the agencies make rules to determine driver’s license or ID requirements.
The language grants the PSC authority to “study procedures and requirements necessary or advisable to ensure the security, validity, and efficiency of driver's licenses and personal identification certificates.” Opponents claim that could give the DPS and the Public Safety Commission broader authority to deny IDs and licenses to applicants.
Williams agreed the language was very broad and said his correction would get closer to what he authored in SB9, his omnibus homeland security bill that failed to get placed in a House calendar. Williams said Texas is one of only three states that doesn’t take the necessary steps to ensure applicants for driver’s licenses or IDs are legal residents or citizens. Language in SB9 would address those concerns, he said.
Senate Resolution 1260 says that the state must release the name and address of the individual or entity getting an award, a "brief description" of the project, and whether or not the state has an equity position in the company. But for any records beyond that, the information can only be released with the consent of the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker and the person or company getting the award.
Sec. 18.115. Contingency for Senate Bill 1811. The All Funds appropriations made for the Foundation School Program (FSP) in Article III, Texas Education Agency Strategies A.1.1 and A.1.2, are contingent on enactment of SB 1811 or similar legislation by the Eighty-second Legislature, Regular Session, 2011, relating to certain state fiscal matters and that amends Chapter 42 of the Texas Education Code to adjust state aid payments to the level of FSP appropriations made elsewhere in this Act. Should this legislation fail to pass and be enacted, the All Funds appropriations for the FSP made in Article III, Texas Education Agency Strategies A.1.1 and A.1.2, are hereby reduced to zero for each year of the 2012-13 biennium, and the sum-certain appropriation identified in Rider 3 of the Texas Education Agency’s bill pattern is hereby reduced to zero for each year of the 2012-13 biennium.
"Senator Davis to hold press conference following her filibuster on the Texas budget"
"In Wendy's Words - Click link to watch me live - filibustering"
The letter was delivered before the Senate came back in at about 9 p.m., Dewhurst said.
She used the magic words, saying she wished to be recognized to speak against the bill -- and speak for a long time," Dewhurst said.
Besides saying it was theoretically possible to get the wheels back on with the consent of 25 senators on Sunday -- the last day of the regular session -- Dewhurst addressed a few other issues in a brief talk with reporters at the press table while Davis was in mid-filibuster.
Asked whether new ideas could emerge in a special session, he said: "With a lot more time in a special session, there might be some pressure to go back and look at some different things."
How he feels about the filibuster: "I think it's unfortunate."
On how long this special session could drag on: "It really depends on what's put on the call, and how controversial they are. It could be short ... or if more items are put on, some of the them maybe opposed by one group or another, it could be longer."
On whether he tried to talk Davis out of it: "I did not visit with her about it. I sensed she had made up her mind."
Democratic Sens. Leticia Van de Putte, Royce West, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and Carlos Uresti were all non-committal when asked if they could vote in favor of a move to get SB 1811 back before the Senate. It would take 25 senators, which probably means six Democrats would have to join all 19 Republicans.
"Tomorrow is a new day," said Uresti, even as he cast doubt on the likelihood of a rules suspension.
The following senators told me they would vote no: Judith Zaffirini, Mario Gallegos, Rodney Ellis, Jose Rodriguez and Eddie Lucio. An aide to Sen. Wendy Davis, who waged the filibuster, said the Fort Worth Democrat would "absolutely not" vote to bring the bill back up. That leaves Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, who slipped off before the Texas Tribune could get their views.
Sen. Steve Ogden, a Republican, said it was "possible."
He said a special session could "open up a lot of issues that members hoped were dead -- like sanctuary cities."
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