Health care

Drop the Money and Back Away Slowly

Explain this to your daddy: The State of Texas has $5.2 billion more money to spend over the next two years than it had during the last two years. There is probably enough money available for the state to continue to do the things it already does, even when you factor in inflation and other increases.

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Medicaid: Big and Scary, But Not Surprising

Budget writers have known for months—since they first saw the numbers—that Medicaid and various other insurance and health care programs were going to stink up the next budget and stain the current one. And they even had a fair idea about the size of the odors and the spots. They've been hearing about drug prices and premiums and caseloads for the better part of the last year. The numbers are big and even alarming, but the problem has been on the radar for a while.

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Swapping Potholes for Skylights

Some of the same people who voted to constitutionally limit state borrowing four years ago have found a way to issue hundreds of millions of dollars in new state highway bonds without counting the new debt against that constitutional cap. Each of the three different types of bonds spelled out in current highway funding proposals would punch a skylight into the legal debt ceiling designed to brake the heavy borrowing that began during the prison-building boom of the 1990s.

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A GOP Primary for Governor?

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is seriously considering entering the race for governor of Texas, according to friends and supporters. That's contrary, mildly, to her 14-month-old pronouncement that she probably would not run against an incumbent governor. But that was during the presidential race. Hutchison herself was up for reelection to the U.S. Senate, and things were more fluid then. There had been no presidential primaries and it wasn't clear that anybody in Texas politics was going anywhere.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Get Set, Get Set...

The presidential election lasted too long. Then there was a new governor to swear in and a race in the Senate to name a new lieutenant governor and a mini-diaspora to Washington, D.C. Senate committees were named, then House committees, and everyone paused for the inauguration. Gov. Rick Perry will come back and make a State of the State speech this week and then, at last, this contraption will finally be rolling. It's been a weird beginning to what could be a weird year.

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While You Were Out

Things do pile up when you're away from your desk for a holiday. All that happened during our 17th annual year-end break was the swearing in of a new president and of a new governor of Texas, the election and swearing in of a new lieutenant governor*, a major shakeup (and 24 hours later, an amendment to the shakeup) of Senate committees, and the release of U.S. Census numbers that give Texas two more seats in Congress after the 2002 elections. Oh, yeah, there's a new estimate on how much money will be available for the next two-year budget. And a mess of people changed jobs.

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Like Pouring Syrup on an Anthill

Wow! Live weather metaphors! Just when the television folk ran out of descriptions for the presidential freeze-frame, it got really cold in Austin. It looked possible that it would drizzle and that the drizzle would freeze on the streets. It was dark and stormy and gray. People came to work late. Then the sun broke through, Al Gore resigned, George W. Bush accepted, and Republicans all over the Capital City started smiling again.

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It May Not Be Local for Texas Voters...

Six weeks away from the election and most of the political conversation in Texas is about a contest that isn't even being fought in the state. You might have expected attention to turn from national stuff to local stuff by now, but local stuff isn't as interesting as the closest presidential race in the last 20 years. If you're in our business, that means you call folks to see what's happening in this race or that one, they want to talk about the presidential polls in Ohio and Florida.

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Politics, Money and Poor Kids

Advocates for the poor will tell you that one of their biggest complaints with the Medicaid system in Texas is the sign-up process. Texas is one of only 12 states that still require a face-to-face interview with a caseworker before someone can receive benefits. It's one of only five states that require both the interview and the so-called assets test that uses what someone owns in addition to their income level to determine whether they're eligible for benefits. And the forms are complicated.

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Political Hopefuls Leave the Starting Gate

Most Texas politicos came out of the Labor Day weekend in seasonally optimistic moods. This is their moment and it begins with every entrant a potential winner. And the watching is promising, too: As the gates spring open and the races start, the Republicans and Democrats are planning or fearing or predicting anything from skirmish to war in nearly a dozen-and-a-half legislative seats.

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Budget Problems? What Budget Problems?

Don't get all cocky just because there is no budget deficit. The cure for high financial hopes can be found in the newest files at the Legislative Budget Board or in any number of budgeteers' offices at the Capitol. State agencies are presenting their boring old Legislative Appropriations Requests, detailing what they believe they'll need during the next two-year budget cycle.

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A Federal Grand Jury Rocks the Senate

Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, is under investigation by a federal grand jury that has peppered Texas government with subpoenas over the last several weeks. The panel is apparently trying to find out whether Madla or a member of his family benefited from some action he took while in office, but none of the information that has so far become public appears to support any such claim.

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Making Bad News Out of a Budget Surplus

Sheesh, before you get all bothered about the grand mal disaster in the state budget, take a breath. There is no grand mal disaster in the state budget. What you've got -- as we've noted in detail over the last couple of months -- is a situation where the state has several agencies with budget messes of varying degrees of difficulty, and plenty of money to clean it all up. What you've also got is a presidential campaign and lots of people who'd like to put this in the worst light.

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Property Taxes Too Cheap to Meter

Lawmakers knew that letting new companies sell electricity in Texas would bring some financial drama to a staid industry, but they predicted it would take two years to get that far down the road. As you might have heard by now, they were wrong, and the price tag on the mistake is hovering in the $50 million range.

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Official Spin: Sick, But in Recovery

If you stick with the riff that the bad ol' Democratic Party is dead, then be ready for this to turn into a slasher movie; the corpse will certainly rise for a sequel, if not soon, then certainly in a year's time when the Republicans are picking their way through a post-George W. Bush landscape.

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Governing on Eggshells

It's quiet in Texas politics and government at the moment, but only part of that can be attributed to the annual lull that comes with summer. Much of it is a result of presidential politics.

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A Break for Prison Guards

Texas prison guards who've been on the job for more than three years will get a pay hike of $138 a month on top of the $100 a month given all state employees during the last legislative session. That means their pay will rise a total of $2,856 annually, almost as much as the $3,000 pay hike the Legislature gave to Texas teachers last year.

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Acronyms of the Week: T.D.E.D., F.U.B.A.R.

The honchos at the Texas Department of Economic Development tried to get rid of former legislator Randall Riley quietly, and in fact, the executive director and the chairman of the agency apparently went out of their way to get folks in the Pink Building to talk Riley into quitting. But it finally came to a force-out when Riley got a call from friendlies in the lieutenant governor's office who said TDED Chairman Mark Langdale and Executive Director Jeff Moseley wanted to wring his neck.

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Tweaking Facts in the Presidential Race

You've heard that aphorism: "When elephants fight, the grass suffers." Well, the presidential race shows all signs of doing for the reputation of this fair state what previous contests did for the luster of Massachusetts, Arkansas, California and Georgia. The home states of governors who run for the presidency often come away looking like prospects for visits from the Peace Corps.

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