Update, Friday 2:10 p.m.: Rep. Donna Howard's proposal to direct surplus Rainy Day Fund money to Texas schools for enrollment growth survived to fight another day during debate on the House floor this morning, but not before a Republican attempt to derail it.
Howard, D-Austin, succeeded in attaching the measure, which she said could provide more than $2 billion to schools over the next biennium, to SB 2, an appropriations bill. It attracted widespread support among her colleagues, passing with 98 votes.
But today, when the bill came up for a second vote on the floor, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, introduced an amendment to strip Howard's language. He said it was wrong to tie the hands of a future legislature with a promise to use money from the fund, and that Gov. Rick Perry may veto the entire bill if the Howard amendment remained intact.
Democrats immediately lined up at the back mic to challenge King.
"Why are we putting on a show just to please those sitting in the gallery?" asked Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, saying the bill barely had the votes to pass, much less the two-thirds majority of both chambers it would need to take effect since it affects the Rainy Day Fund.
Then, two Republicans — Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrolton, and Rep. Lanham Lyne, R-Witchita Falls — spoke against their colleague's amendment. They both alluded to pressure members had felt from outside groups to keep their hands off the fund.
"I hate to say we can't do this because of a pledge. That's why I don't make pledges," Lyne said, adding, "It is the right thing for the people of Texas."
In the end, 17 Republicans broke away from the party to vote against King's amendment. It failed with a vote of 79 to 65.
At a press conference after the vote, Democrats blamed special interests for the loss of support for the bill, but expressed hope that more lawmakers would come around by the final vote.
“Those outside forces have more sway than their own constituents," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston. "Check the votes; they’re in high-growth areas as well. They should be concerned about this. It’s putting politics over people.”
Fiscal conservatives expressed deep frustration with House lawmakers today, after lawmakers held fast to a so-called "Amazon tax," and accepted an amendment to a fiscal matters bill that would direct any additional growth in the Rainy Day Fund to Texas schools.
In a move that drew criticism from Gov. Rick Perry, the House kept a measure designed to close loopholes in the law that determines when online vendors, such as Amazon.com, must collect sales taxes, on Senate Bill 1 — despite a failed amendment by Rep. Bill Zedler to remove it. In a statement, Perry urged lawmakers to remove the Internet sales tax language: "I believe this provision risks significant unintended consequences, including a loss of Texas job opportunities and weakening of our state's competitive advantage."
During debate on Senate Bill 2, another fiscal matters bill, Democratic Rep. Donna Howard successfully tacked on an amendment to direct any surplus in the Rainy Day Fund to enrollment growth in Texas schools, which are underfunded by $4 billion in this budget. According to some estimates, that could be over $2 billion with an improving economic climate.
For the amendment — which has drawn the ire of fiscal conservatives — to stick, both chambers will have to vote for the SB 2 conference committee report with a two-thirds majority. The amendment got 98 votes in the House today.
Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat whose filibuster in the upper chamber on education cuts led Perry to call an immediate special session, applauded Howard's efforts.
"I'm very pleased that through the efforts of teachers and parents across the state the Texas House has demonstrated, through its vote to increase public school funding, that those voices are having an impact," she said.