June 09, 2004
A government of laws, not of men

I'm more in link mode than analysis mode right now, but I trust that this article doesn't need a whole lot of comment.

Gov. Rick Perry recently predicted, in a private meeting in Dallas, that a lawsuit challenging the state's school finance law will fail because his appointees to the Texas Supreme Court won't force changes on the Legislature.

Perry said he knew where his appointees "stand on this" and was confident they wouldn't attempt to rewrite the school law, one participant in the meeting recalled Tuesday. As many as five of the nine court members could be Perry appointees by the time an appeal of the case reaches the panel.

"He didn't say he had spoken to them (the justices), but I just couldn't believe it, and a lot of other people couldn't believe it either. They were stunned that a governor would say something like that," said John Carpenter, who on Tuesday ended a term as president of the Highland Park school board.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt did not dispute Carpenter's account of the meeting, but said Carpenter had "totally misconstrued" the governor's remarks.

Walt said the governor hasn't discussed the school finance lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in state district court in Austin on Aug. 9, or any other case with Supreme Court members. Such discussions could result in disciplinary actions against the judges.

"The makeup of the court is substantially different than it was previously, and the governor believes the state will win the lawsuit," Walt said.

Texas has a "fair and very independent judiciary," she added. But the governor appoints judges "who do not legislate from the bench."

Carpenter said about 25 to 30 Highland Park school officials and residents of the heavily Republican district, one of the state's wealthiest, attended the meeting with Perry at a private home in Dallas on May 13.

That was only a few days before a special session on school finance ended in failure because lawmakers and Perry couldn't agree on how to replace revenue lost from a proposed cut in local school property taxes. Legislators rejected Perry's plan to legalize video slot machines at racetracks, and the governor turned down lawmakers' proposals for expanded business taxes.

Perry proposed some funding increases for the public schools, mostly tied to improved student performance and other incentives.

He has indicated he may call another special session later this summer on school finance.

Plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit include about 300 school districts, both rich and poor. Despite other differences, all agree that the state, which now pays for less than 40 percent of school operating costs, must increase its share, Carpenter said. Highland Park is a plaintiff.

Carpenter said the governor told the Dallas group that Democratic legislators were being encouraged not to vote for a new school bill now because they believed the courts were likely to rule in favor of the school districts and order a plan that would increase state funding for public schools.

But Perry said the plaintiffs don't stand a chance with the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately will decide any appeal of the case, Carpenter said.

"He said he's talked to his attorney and that the attorney general said the state is in good shape," Carpenter recalled.

Carpenter said the governor also commented to him and one or two other people, as Perry was leaving, that he and state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley "could cut 20 percent out of the school district budgets of the state."

"I think his perception is -- and I think it's wrong -- is that school districts across the state are inefficient and spending too much money," Carpenter added. "I've supported him (Perry) in the past. But he doesn't have a clue about what's going on in school finance."

Walt, who was at the meeting, said she didn't hear the governor's parting remarks.

You may recall that Highland Park is the ritzy Dallas suburb whose hometown paper pined for Kay Bailey Hutchison last summer. This story was apparently broken by the Quorum Report and also picked up by the Express-News, which contained this odd bit:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Senate Education Committee chairwoman, said of Perry's reported forecast: "I'm shocked. I would never preclude what the Supreme Court would do."

I presume she said or meant "predict", though I suppose strictly speaking what she was quoted as saying is true.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 09, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack