June 30, 2004
Perry hedges on special session

I guess they aren't making all that much progress after all.

With state leaders still unable to agree on a new way to pay for the public schools, Gov. Rick Perry is dimming the prospects for another special session on education this summer.

He said legislators wrestling with the issue need to outline an agreement within the next few weeks or another session would be futile.

"If we can't agree on the major points by August, there's no reason to call Leo Berman (and other legislators) down to Austin," he said, referring to the Republican state representative from Tyler.

Perry spokesman Robert Black confirmed the remarks, published Tuesday in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. They were made Monday while the governor was in East Texas to announce some health center grants.

"I think the governor's sentiment hasn't changed. He wants to bring the Legislature back only if there is agreement among the leadership," Black said.

He said Perry would like to call a special session because he wants legislators to be able to focus on education and not be distracted by other issues.

"He's still hopeful. He's still optimistic something is going to happen. (But) the clock is ticking, no doubt -- at least in his mind it is," Black said.

Perry called the Legislature into special session April 20 despite a lack of agreement on key funding proposals, and it ended in failure four weeks later. There was strong support for reducing local school property taxes, but there were also strong differences over how to replace the lost revenue.

Many legislators, especially in the House, opposed the governor's proposal to legalize video lottery terminals, a form of slot machine, at racetracks and on Indian reservations. Perry opposed an expansion of business taxes, which was favored by many lawmakers.

Those key differences apparently remain, although until recently Perry had been strongly hinting he would call lawmakers back to Austin to try again later this summer.

Black said August was key because the Legislature had to complete work on any constitutional amendments during that month to have time to put them on the November ballot for voter review.

Several school-related proposals would require constitutional changes. They include the governor's proposal to set new limits on local property tax appraisals, the gambling plan and a statewide property tax, another potential funding source.

Black said the governor believes a comprehensive school solution would require a constitutional amendment. He left open the possibility, however, that Perry could call a special session in September or October for less comprehensive educational changes.

The Chron story, printed two days after the Tyler Morning Telegraph story, paints a more pessimistic picture than the original report.

During a Monday stop in Tyler to announce a grant for a local health center, Perry said a second special session on school finance is possible for later in the summer - but not definite.

"The end of August is really the deadline to get any questions we need to get before the voters on the (November) ballot," said Perry. "So I would think that late July or early August will be our only window of opportunity."

The date of a second special session has been in question since the first session broke down without a solution to the state's school finance dilemma. Though lawmakers seemed to agree that property taxes need to be cut and new funding sources identified, they couldn't agree on what those sources might be, or how best to replace the Robin Hood funding system.

Perry said he hopes that failure won't be repeated. He said he won't call a second session if lawmakers now meeting in Austin can't hammer out the basics in the next two to four weeks.

"If we can't agree on the major points by August, there's no reason to call Leo Berman (and other legislators) down to Austin," he said.

But he distanced himself from the disappointment of the first session.

"Like the old adage says, I can lead a horse to water," said Perry.

Well, at least we know that the Governor has a realistic assessment of his own leadership capabilities. With such small steps do we make progress. I can almost hear Kay Bailey Hutchison gearing up her campaign machine in the background.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 30, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack