March 02, 2004
Will they or won't they?

If that pension shortfall problem isn't enough to raise your general stress level, how about that oft-promised special session on school finance reform, which still may or may not happen, especially now that they have other things to worry about?

With April 1, once a target date for a session, now only a month away, there apparently is still no agreement among [Governor] Perry and legislative leaders, much less rank-and-file lawmakers, on a new funding plan.

The focus on education, moreover, also is being challenged by a criminal investigation into 2002 campaign spending that recently was expanded to include House Speaker Tom Craddick's race for presiding officer.

Craddick, who turned over records related to his speaker's election to a Travis County grand jury last week, insists he did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, he has been meeting with legislators about school finance.

But some people who have been around the speaker said he has seemed fretful, perhaps fearing that Democratic legislators would use a special session to make frequent political attacks against him and other Republicans over the fund-raising issue.

"Some Democrats will be throwing tomahawks and spears," state Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, predicted.

But he said the main problem was a lack of agreement on how to replace the current school finance law, which requires wealthier school districts to share tax revenue with poor districts.

Well you know, they could have taken care of this during the regular session as they promised they would. The Senate did its part just to see Perry and Craddick publicly piss all over their efforts. The powers that be very likely wouldn't have come to an agreement, even without the sudden shift of focus to redistricting, but at least they could say they tried and made progress.

Do I think this will affect the 2004 Legislative races? Maybe a little, but probably not too much. I figure the suburban districts that are really hot for Robin Hood's death are unlikely to toss out any Republican reps at this time (if ever). If this gets punted to 2005, it should be an issue in the next statewide election, unless of course a plan gets passed that people actually like. The pressure will increase on Governor Perry the longer this takes, but any viable challenger to him who wants to use this as a club will have to have a palatable plan of his or her own. Whatever else you might think, that's a tall order.

In the end, I believe that some variation of the Dewhurst plan, which broadened and increased sales taxes while cutting property taxes, will get passed. Perry will claim his share of credit for it regardless, and the bidness lobby will accept the closing of the franchise tax loophole (yet another thing that should have been done last year but wasn't) with much grumbling. As always, getting there will be most of the fun.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 02, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack