May 15, 2004
RIP, special session

What more can you say?

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst surrounded himself with a bipartisan group of senators on the Capitol's south steps Friday as he announced the special session on property tax relief and public school finance has apparently failed.

"We've made real progress, but we've still got much work to do," Dewhurst said. "We need some more time in order to do a good job."

Gov. Rick Perry has said he would call another special session if this one failed, but a statement he released Friday was unclear on whether he planned to do that.

"Funding our public schools is likely the most complex and important issue that state leaders face, as evidenced by the fact that no Legislature has ever solved the matter in 30 days," Perry said.

"From the outset, I have said that I am committed to spending whatever time it takes to address the issue. Our children and taxpayers deserve no less than our full commitment."

To announce the apparent collapse of the school finance session, Dewhurst took the unusual step of moving his news conference from the Senate chamber to the Capitol steps.

Several hundred business lobbyists crowded the steps straining to hear what Dewhurst said. Most had clients at risk of paying higher taxes to finance property tax reductions, while others represented gambling interests that want to legalize video slot machine terminals at racetracks.

The special session is scheduled to end Wednesday. Dewhurst said that meant the only way a school finance package could pass would be to have an agreed-to plan passed by the Senate and adopted in whole by the House.

Dewhurst indicated that was unlikely but that he planned to continue negotiations with Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick to reach a consensus.

"When that consensus is reached, I would expect the governor to call another special session," Dewhurst said.

Craddick, who saw a House school finance package all but completely self-destruct during debate last week, offered words of condolence to Dewhurst.

"Believe me, I understand the Senate's problem in reaching a consensus. The House has nearly five times as many members," said Craddick.

Dewhurst said the House had problems "due to some external circumstances," which he explained as Perry's comments against a business tax at a press conference on the eve of House debate on a school finance plan.

Those comments prompted Craddick to remove a business payroll tax from the House plan. He also took video gambling off the table because of opposition from some Republican House members.

That left the House with an underfunded plan that offered slight property tax relief and no new money for education.

"We didn't have much to work with when it came over," said Dewhurst.

So then. The special session failed because there was never a consensus on how to succeed, which was supposed to happen before the session was called so that a bunch of legislators weren't sitting around Austin collecting taxpayer-funded per diems while the same studies were reviewed, the same testimony was heard, and the same fruitless closed-room discussions occurred. The special session failed because a key component needed to generate the revenue for equitable school funding as well as to offset the desired property tax cuts drew strong opposition. Who is responsible for both of these failings? Governor Rick Perry. Write that down and remember it in 2006. Whatever you wanted out of this session, even if another one eventually gets called, you didn't get it because of Governor Rick Perry.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 15, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack