For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked for a job evaluation for the Legislature.
What we found was a more or less positive assessment of what lawmakers have done this year. Close to half the insiders approved, but among that group, most withheld a hearty endorsement. The "somewhat approve" option was chosen by 39 percent while the "strongly approve" option was chosen by just 9 percent.
Meanwhile, those disapproving of the Legislature's work were evenly divided between "somewhat disapprove" — 17 percent — and "strongly disapprove" — 18 percent.
A bit more than half the insiders thought the Legislature had achieved a signature accomplishment with about two in five saying the session lacked a defining accomplishment.
We followed up by asking the insiders to name that accomplishment. Many offered up tax cuts and a few offered up votes for the budget and gun rights. We then asked what issue should have been addressed and wasn't. School funding was the runaway winner there.
We closed by asking when lawmakers might return to Austin. Nearly half said lawmakers would get a full interim and not return until January 2017. Another 36 percent thought lawmakers would have to come back for a special session sometime in 2016. Just 10 percent thought the governor would bring them back later this year.
We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:
Do you approve of the Legislature’s job this session?
• "All due credit to the Lege, with two new statewide elected officials, elimination of the 2/3rds rule, the nuisance factor in the House and covert surveillance, big stuff was accomplished, transportation funding, tax cuts, state budget, state and local government spending caps, open carry/campus carry, unreasonable local control thwarted (fracking issue), state contract/procurement reform ... am I leaving anything out?"
• "Got most of what needed to be done, done, without spending too much time and energy on things that won't go anywhere. Still too much focus on social issues for my taste, though."
• "The focus on tax cuts from the start ruled out doing anything meaningful on school finance. Or highways, higher ed, etc. So it was essentially doomed from the start."
• "Erosion of local control will be the hallmark. Could have done so much to strengthen the state's infrastructure, state facilities, parks, schools and the ERS system. Gave partial fixes, lowered taxes and declared victory."
• "Some positive accomplishments, but too much hypocrisy — they continue to yell about local debt but have no problem approving $3 billion in bonds for universities; everyone is for budget transparency, but Chair Nelson refuses to move the bill that would end the diversion of dedicated funds that will continue to inflate the revenue estimate and sit on taxpayer money."
• "The Legislature will leave town having passed the worse (by far) of competing tax plans, the minimum amount for schools, open carry, and maybe deregulation of people who want to remove excess eyebrow hair. Were I a member, I wouldn't brag on these things."
Did the Legislature have a signature accomplishment this year?
• "Or lack thereof, media types (long form print) will play up open carry/campus carry and no real movement on public school finance."
• "It's hard to put pre-K funding or open carry or something else on par with deregulating the electricity market or massive tort reform."
• "Someone is bound to crow about pre-K, but it restores only two-thirds of the money cut in 2011. An accomplishment only compared to doing nothing at all."
• "They had the money to address the many areas of deferred maintenance and growing need in our fast growing state and made some important steps in the budget but squandered opportunities by passing an unneeded tax cut package. The Eltife critique is on target."
• "Their signature accomplishment is Open Carry. I didn't say it was a good signature."
• "The jury is still out on this one. ... We won't know until June 1, 2015."
If so, what was it?
• "Tax cuts and a timely budget"
• "Beginning to clean up years of malfeasance in the state budget by beginning to end diversions of dedicated funds, addressing transportation, parks, state buildings, pension funding and burgeoning state debt."
• "25% business tax cut. 2/3rds majority requirement for raising property tax rates above effective rate."
• "Environmental permit reform, drawing a needed line between state and local authority, beginning the needed changes to water resource management statutes to reflect new technologies."
• "Taking us back to the 1880s in gun laws."
What’s the biggest issue this Legislature should have addressed and didn’t?
• "I am obliged to respond: public school finance, public school finance, public school finance, public school finance, etc., etc."
• "A real ethics bill that squarely addresses the many conflicts of interest that plague the Legislature."
• "Protecting the property rights of landowners"
• "Transportation funding remains woefully inadequate for a growing state that has failing bridges, extensive wear and tear from population growth and substantial oil and gas related and manufactured goods production."
• "Paying down bond debt instead of miniscule tax relief."
When do lawmakers return to Austin?
• "Could come back early, as a result of court ruling on EPA regulations."
• "What happens if/when the U.S. Supreme Court mandates homosexual 'marriage?' Texas could have prepared, but it wasn't a priority for the Governor, Lt. Governor or Speaker."
• "Merry Christmas to the new chair of House Education."
• "I'm guessing the Supremes will either rule for the state in school finance, or at least will give the Lege time to address it in regular session."
• "More than likely ... in the Spring/Summer of 2016. But I could see the TxSC give the #Txlege until June 30, 2017 to fix school finance."
Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jennifer Ahrens, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Kerry Cammack, Snapper Carr, Corbin Casteel, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Randy Cubriel, Beth Cubriel, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, John Greytok, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Walt Jordan, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Dale Laine, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Ruben Longoria, Homero Lucero, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Steve Minick, Mike Moses, Keats Norfleet, Todd Olsen, Gardner Pate, Jerod Patterson, Robert Peeler, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Pritchard, Ted Melina Raab, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Grant Ruckel, Tyler Ruud, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Ben Sebree, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Mark Smith, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Bryan Sperry, Colin Strother, Tom Suehs, Sherry Sylvester, Sara Tays, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Seth Winick, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.