August 17, 2005
"After you" "No, no, no, after you"

When you stop and think about it, this really was the only way the latest (and hopefully last for at least a little while) special session would end.

The Legislature could have adjourned before its mandatory end at midnight Friday. But in a final showdown between House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that will cost taxpayers $23,000 a day, the two leaders refused to have their chamber be the first to quit.

"Nobody wants to be the first going, I guess," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.

"The governor called it for 30 days, and that's when it ends," said Craddick.

He took heat two weeks ago when he called for lawmakers to quit early, saying they were wasting time and money.

Priceless. In the Pink delivers the Craddick/Dewhurst dialogue, which if isn't how it went is how it should have gone.

Dewhurst did manage to twist the knife a little:

Dewhurst insisted he wasn't engaging in a "blame game," but noted, "I can't help but say I'm disappointed with the lack of action in the House."

He also pointed out that the Senate had approved education legislation but couldn't act on a tax bill unless the House approved one first.

Translation: "I'm not going to play the Blame Game, but if you are, I have some helpful hints for you so you can play it more effectively."

With the end of the session comes analyses and editorials. From the Chron:

"It's baffling to me. There's a total lack of leadership down there," said former Texas GOP Chairman Tom Pauken. "Lobbyists are driving the train rather than having a philosophically driven, policy-driven plan."


"It's not that we're not trying. It's just that the interests are so different it's hard to find common solutions," said state Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, who lives in the Robin Hood-paying school district of Spring Branch. "If there were an easy answer, we would have done it a long time ago."

The complexities of public school finance are beyond most average voters, though. The failures are adding to citizen frustration that could translate into election problems next year for Gov. Rick Perry and legislators.

"You could see a real change next year and some people get defeated," Pauken said.

Pauken said Perry could be "vulnerable" in the Republican primary to the challenge Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is mounting against him, even though she is perceived as a "mini-Ann Richards."

"It's going to be an anti-Perry vote," Pauken said.

Conservative activist Jim Cardle of the Texas Citizen Action Network said he thinks this summer's two special sessions have been "a plus" for Perry because he will get credit among voters for trying to get something done. Cardle said it is legislators who need to be running scared.

"These younger sophomore and freshmen legislators ran on one thing and one thing only: to kill Robin Hood, the Robin Hood school finance system, and they haven't done it," Cardle said. "They need to be held accountable."

But interviews with some Republican county chairs across the state indicate that the Texas Capitol is now regarded much like Congress: Voters hate the Legislature but not their local legislator.

"I don't see any major upheaval, like throw the baby out with the bath water and wipe the slate clean and start over without legislators," said John DeNoyelles, the Smith County chairman.

Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill said the biggest issue locally is appraisal caps.

"Our particular legislators, with respect to the appraisal-cap reduction, have not only led on that legislation but voted the right way," Woodfill said. "What we're trying to do now is get the rest of the Republican delegation, i.e., state reps in the Dallas area, to get on board."

Collin County GOP Chairman Rick Neudorff said he sees a lot of voter "frustration" but not with his local lawmakers, who include Senate Education Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. Neudorff said Shapiro worked hard on the biggest issue in his area, ending Robin Hood.

"There is frustration on the lack of ability to get some tax relief. At the same time, there are people who don't want the business tax. So it's a big melting pot," Neudorff said. "But that doesn't mean they won't draw primary opponents."

From the Waco Trib (thanks, Nate!):

Peter Rusek, president of the Midway Independent School District, recently sounded off on school finance against the Legislature.

“You hear the politicians say they want to do what's best for schoolchildren and then they go down there and can't get anything done. They can't put politics aside,” Rusek said. “It doesn't make any sense.

“It's not like we're talking about ... a political hot potato. We're talking about educating the students of the state,” Rusek said.

State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, said he is mindful of that view and hears feedback from a network of more than 100 constituents on a regular basis during the Senate's debate over school and tax plans.

“(The public's response) is on everybody's mind as a legitimate concern, and it is a legitimate concern,” said Averitt, who faces his first re-election bid in the Senate next year.


With many seats drawn to be safely in Republican or Democratic hands, it's also questionable how much power voters still wield.

State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, said he knows how important the issue could be.

“The folks out there are watching. We're very interested in getting the problem solved and it's our responsibility to do that,” Anderson said.


“I'm not a political pundit,” said Pat Atkins, Waco ISD board president, “but I think for two years, Governor Perry and the legislators have told folks they were going to make a concerted effort to reduce property taxes and adequately fund public schools, and they haven't accomplished that goal.

“I think the voters are going to be frustrated and I think it's clearly going to be an issue come primary times, but I don't think you can simply say sweep all the scoundrels out,” Atkins said.


[Rep. Jim] Dunnam, a leader of the House Democrats, said voters should be angry and make their frustration known, but he doesn't think they should be judged on passing something. They should be judged on passing a good plan.

“I think it should have a political cost,” Dunnam said.

He has made stopping Republican-led education and tax reforms a key focus of his work over the past two years. Like other lawmakers who voted against leading school finance plans, Dunnam said opposition can sometimes be what the voters want.

“I do believe that my position and my votes down here have been about 100 percent about what's best for my district,” Dunnam said. “I think there is a cost for people who didn't vote for their districts.”

Statesman editorial:

Indications are that Gov. Rick Perry won't call a third special session to advertise his and the Texas Legislature's inability to reform the state's school finance system. Clearly, there's no reason to believe that another special session would do anything but waste $1.7 million more of the taxpayers' money.

Perry decided to gamble early this summer by vetoing the public education budget and calling the Legislature back into special session to reform the school finance system, which a state court has ruled is unconstitutional. But his gamble failed. From the beginning, the veto was seen as just a political stunt, not a serious warning shot, and so it proved to be. Once it was apparent that the Legislature would not enact reforms, the governor wasn't about to run the political risk of shutting down the schools; he quietly agreed to sign a bill restoring the funding.


[N]o court ruling will make it easier for Republicans — who ran for office promising no new taxes — to vote for a bill that, no matter how they slice and dice it, raises taxes for most Texans. Just as President Clinton and many Democrats finally had to face the need for welfare reform in the 1990s, so Republicans in Texas must eventually face the need to raise some taxes to meet the needs and demands of a growing state.

To do that, some Republican leaders are going to have to take on the business community — to recognize that what's best for businesses' bottom lines doesn't automatically translate into what's best for the people of Texas. The state's tax structure is clearly out of whack with the state's economy. Even if lawmakers continue to refuse to consider a state income tax, there's a need for a broad-based business tax to help carry the budget load along with property and sales taxes.

Unfortunately, for now, there's no sign of such effective leadership in Texas. So lawmakers might as well go home.

More as I find them.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 17, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack