June 20, 2003
Checking in

Got a few free minutes and access to a computer, so I thought I'd check in for a second. I swear, every time I go out of town, everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Governor Perry finally quits teasing and calls a special session for redistricting, just as Comptroller Strayhorn refuses to certify the budget. In doing so, she's got people speculating about her political ambition:

[S]peculation persisted that Strayhorn, who has held a succession of public offices off and on for almost 30 years, also enjoyed an opportunity to make public life a little more difficult for some of her fellow Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, whose job she is suspected of coveting.

"She's not doing him any favors," said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson.

"She was probably chuckling up her sleeve just before she went before the cameras to say this budget isn't balanced," he added.

The self-styled "tough grandma" began the year on the wrong foot with the governor and legislative leaders when, on the eve of the regular session in January, she doubled her previous projection of a revenue shortfall to almost $10 billion.

Then, she fueled the fire by accusing lawmakers of having a "party," or spending too much, in 2001 and also criticized the Legislature's budget-writing efforts this year.

Strayhorn's refusal to certify the budget may force Perry to add the budget to the agenda of the special legislative session that he already has called for June 30 to tackle the controversial issue of congressional redistricting.

Some political observers predicted that completing work on the budget -- which was highly contentious during the regular session -- could consume so much time that it thwarts Republican plans to redraw congressional districts during the 30-day special session.

Others, however, expected the budgetary problem to be resolved quickly.

Although the comptroller had warned days ago that she had some reservations about the complex series of accounting maneuvers that lawmakers had used to draft a new budget without raising state taxes, she informed Perry and legislative leaders of her decision to reject the spending bill only a few hours before her public announcement.


Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant with ties to Perry and Craddick, said Strayhorn was "being a little persnickety" over a tiny percentage of the state budget.

Miller suggested the comptroller was striking back over the failure of some of her own legislative priorities, including her proposal to provide free junior college tuition for all high school graduates.

"I think she's letting people know she's got some muscle, and she's willing to flex it," he said.

Jillson said Strayhorn, if given the opportunity, "would love to run for governor." Reportedly, so would U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

"If I were Rick Perry, I would be hearing footsteps," Jillson added.

The SMU professor said he believed that reworking the state budget in the special session could prove a setback to efforts by Perry and other Republicans to redraw congressional districts, the reason the governor called the session in the first place.

Budgetary issues, which likely will be marked by renewed debate over spending cuts, will give Democratic opponents of redistricting more opportunities and more time to maneuver, Jillson said.

Miller disagreed.

"I don't think (the budget) affects redistricting at all," he said. "I think, on redistricting, the Democrats are high and dry. It's a fight they're going to lose."

The one things legislators must do when they convene is pass a balanced budget, so that will be the first item on their agenda when they get back together. If it gets resolved quickly, then Perry and Craddick will have better odds of ramming through some form of redistricting. If not, well, it ought to make for a fun 30 days.

On a side note, Texas Monthly put Tom DeLay on its every-other-year list of Ten Worst Lawmakers, a list usually reserved for state lawmakers only. The list contains two surprises to me: Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth on the Best list, since she was a Worst List member in 1999, and Rep. Jim Dunnam on the Worst list. I'll have to check out the issue and get back to you for their reasoning.

UPDATE: Thank you, Ginger, for catching the Chron stories about Perry's announcement of the special session (here and here). Note the following tantalizing quote from the first article:

When the Legislature in 2001 failed to redraw congressional districts as required in the first session after the 2000 census, the boundaries were drawn by a three-judge federal panel. At the time, Democrats controlled the state House. Perry refused to call a special session, saying the courts should draw the lines.

Emphasis mine. Obviously, it's only OK for the courts to draw the lines when the Democrats have a majority in the House. When I get back home, I'll be searching the archives for the actual quotes from back then.

UPDATE: Faster than you can say "Attorney General Abbott threatens to sue", Strayhorn has reversed course and rubberstamped the budget after all. That will make Perry and DeLay's job easier, and once again puts the focus on Senate Democrats.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 20, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Yeah, I was surprised about Dunnam being on the worst list, and I think they were too easy on Craddick.. they gave him the dishonorable mention. I posted on it earlier today.

Posted by: ByronUT on June 20, 2003 4:15 PM

Radio report said Strayhorn and Perry met privately to discuss the budget - through what sounds like a couple of bills Perry will veto, report had Strayhorn saying the money (most? all?) is coming from the comptroller's budget.

Posted by: hope on June 20, 2003 9:35 PM