For the third time since 2003, an attempt to overhaul the tax structure in order to get rid of the so-called "Robin Hood" method of public school funding is dead. We've known it was dying for some time now, and the reasons for it haven't changed since we first knew it was in serious trouble, and here it is. It was a top priority of Governor Perry's, and it failed.
Remember now, this was the third attempt. The Senate took a shot at it in 2003 by unanimously passing a tax reform bill. The House and Governor Perry immediately pissed on it, and it was never spoken of again. (Anyone else think the bad blood this session between David Dewhurst and Tom Craddick can be traced back to that?) Perry called a special session in 2004, which petered out before the 30-day deadline having accomplished nothing other than the House voting 126-0 against a plan he himself put forward. And now this, thanks in part to Perry's special brand of leadership. I know this sort of thing is hard, but how much time and how many chances do you get before you're branded an abject failure?
And so let the finger-pointing and buzzard-circling begin!
No sooner had House Republicans fired their last volley across the Senate's bow Saturday than people began speculating on the political fallout from failing to cut homeowners' property taxes and resolve school finance.
"My guess is there will be some folks at fairly high levels that will pay a price next March," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, referring to the political primaries.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decision whether to challenge Perry in the Republican primary will be the first telltale sign of the deadlock's impact, said Austin consultant Bill Miller, a close ally of Craddick's.
Lawmakers who made tough votes on school finance and taxes when the proposals first came through their chambers this spring will have to wait longer to see if they will draw opponents.
"All in all, it's not the kind of news I would want to take home to my constituents," said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas government professor. "The media will keep it alive and hang it around their necks."
Democratic consultant Jeff Crosby of Austin said the legislative session should help his party gain seats in the Legislature, particularly in the House.
"Not only did they vote for higher taxes," Crosby said, "they brought you nothing for your schools. That's a lot of fodder for direct mail and TV commercials."
Speculation immediately emerged about whether Perry would call lawmakers into a special session, if not to fix school finance, then to brandish his conservative credentials by making lawmakers shrink the double-digit increase in state spending they are set to approve today.
Miller said a special session would represent "short-term gain, long-term loss" for the governor.
Crosby agreed. "I don't think there is any political will among Republicans to agree on a plan without a gun to their head," he said. "It would be a tremendous political risk for the governor to call a special session. It could melt down, and he would be the focus."
Crosby expects Perry to use the line-item veto to reduce the $139 billion budget by about $1 billion.
Perry is considering line-item vetoes and a special session on the budget, according to a source close to the governor.
That source, who requested anonymity because his position, predicted that any special session would begin as soon as Tuesday and continue through the 20-day period when the governor can veto legislation.