Health care

Big Mo and Little Mo

Gov. Rick Perry's appraisal reforms don't have nearly the momentum of last year's school finance package, though both came out of task forces headed by political figures and comprised of business folks. School finance was hard to crack, but the Legislature wasn't split on the need to do something. This time, you'll find disagreement on the nature of the problem and the proposed solutions. This package will be harder to pass.

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The Agony of Relief

State spending on school tax relief could force legislators to trample constitutional limits on budget growth next year, vexing conservatives who want both tax relief and limits on government growth.

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A Critical Weekend

If the Senate Finance Committee can make it to Monday or Tuesday of next week with four or five of the school finance components intact, there's a good chance Texans will see a new business tax, a cut in school property taxes, teacher pay raises and a bag full of other legislative wonders. But it's gonna be a long weekend.

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Spelling R.e.l.i.e.f.

So here's a question: Does the huge budget surplus make it harder or easier to pass the governor's proposed tax bill? Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn added $3.9 billion to the $4.3 billion that was already in the surplus — and those numbers don't include about $1 billion that's already in the state's Rainy Day Fund.

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Muddy Waters

Every so often, an experienced reporter from somewhere else will get hired into the Capitol press corps and will proceed to surprise and dominate competitors with stories that should have been obvious to the natives.

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Just Enough

What do you call the student who finishes last in medical school? A doctor. And what do you call legislation that passes by just one vote? A law, or one step closer to it. 

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The Bell Lap

The formula here is just as it was at the beginning of the session: Failure to get results on school finance and property cuts would be horrible news for Rick Perry, less troubling for David Dewhurst and Tom Craddick, and of very little political consequence to the average member of the Texas Legislature.

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Begin the Beguine

It takes two to tango and two to tax, and the Senate isn't dancing with the House on revenue for school finance. Their bottom line numbers are similar. Both houses started with the idea of lowering local school property taxes by 50 cents, and that sets the size of the project. But their methods of getting to the bottom line are as different as Mars and Venus.

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The Session in a Nutshell

It's usually best to take your medicine fast, in one ugly gulp, like mom used to say. But House leaders, apparently confident they can pass a major tax bill and an ambitious rewriting of the state's school finance system, decided to let both measures sit unprotected over a long weekend.

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The Ides of March

Mention March 2006 to political people in Texas, and you'll trigger a conversation about the top of the ballot. But March 2006 — the month of the primaries and, in particular, the Republican primaries — is on the minds of a fair number of legislators who want to remain in office after this term.

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It Never Hurts to Ask

Can you remember a particular State of the State speech? That's not meant as a slap at Gov. Rick Perry — we're just noting the historical significance of the form. What's useful about these spiels is that they tell you what direction a governor hopes a Legislature will take. It's where Perry said he wanted a reexamination of some death penalty issues four years ago, for instance. This year, his list was devoid of surprises, but gave listeners a sense of his direction. Some highlights:

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It's Only Money

Two weeks ago, the smart guys were betting there'd be $1 billion to $2 billion in red ink in the state's starting budget. Instead, it's in the black, though it will probably swing from one inkwell to the other in the next few weeks.

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Easy as Pie

Piece number one fell into place Monday, when Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced the state's financial fortunes have improved over two years ago and the ugly budget fight that ensued then might be avoided this time around. Budgeteers, nervous about Strayhorn's steady political attacks on Gov. Rick Perry, were braced for worse news. Instead, her numbers were within a hair's breadth of their own predictions about state income.

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Your Money or Your Kids

State District Judge John Dietz, ruling on the heels of closing arguments, said the state's system of funding public schools is unconstitutional and ordered the Legislature to fix it within a year. His detailed ruling won't be out for a couple of weeks, but if you do a quick calculation of what he said so far, it's easy to argue that the state will have to spend another $3 billion or so each year on public education. That's in addition to any money that would be used lowering local property taxes. (Click here for a copy of Dietz's bench ruling.)

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The Guns of August (and September)

Political journalists are often called fight promoters — people who'll try to start a contest where there isn't one — but the state's senior senator and the governor are making the job easy. They're even giving us facts to play with, and starting the fights without much prompting from the likes of us.

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Gloomy Numbers For Every Political Taste

The U.S. Bureau of the Census prefaced the Republican Party's national convention with a bummer of a report that says, among other things, that Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people of any state and that the median income here dropped during the first years of this decade.

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A Special Case

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, is in a pretty safe district for a Democrat, as these things go. In the last election against his current opponent, Jeffrey Hibbs, Dunnam pulled 60.2 percent of the vote. And with the exception of Tony Sanchez Jr., who lost by a little in this House district while losing by a lot statewide, the Democrats running for statewide office in Dunnam's district swept in 2002.

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