April 17, 2006
As the gavel turns

You've seen this everywhere else by now, so now see it here:

The head of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s gavel came off as he brought the Senate to order this afternoon.

Dewhurst, putting the dealie back on, told members in the chamber: “I hope that’s no reflection on this session.”

I have an unconfirmed report that a vulture landed on Dewhurst's shoulder as he said that.

We start the first overtime with a bigger surplus than before.

Firing the first shots of the special session, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn today said legislators will have an $8.2 billion surplus to work with and challenged Gov. Rick Perry to broaden their agenda to raising teacher pay and other education improvements.

Strayhorn, who is challenging Perry's reelection as an independent, said she agreed with the governor that local property taxes need to be reduced to meet a June 1 deadline, set by the Texas Supreme Court, for fixing the school funding system.

But she added, "It would be wrong to use this session to only cut property taxes when Texas needs long-term solutions for our fundamental problems."

Perry, who sets the agenda for special sessions, said he wants to restrict the workload, at least initially, to meeting the Supreme Court's order for repairs to the school finance system. He said he will consider other issues, including teacher pay, only after property taxes are lowered.

The governor issued a proclamation today, officially limiting the session's agenda to cutting school property taxes, the higher state taxes he has proposed and appropriations to the Texas Education Agency.

Strayhorn, like Perry, said it would be a mistake for legislators to simply use the surplus to pay for property tax cuts and then go home. But the fact that she nearly doubled the surplus from her previous forecast of $4.3 billion is likely to increase the temptation of many Republican lawmakers to do just that.

I, too, think that bigger surplus will provide an irresistable temptation to some legislators to cut and run. Perry seems to be resisting that, to his credit, and it's not out of the question in my mind that reps who try that could suffer greater consequences at the ballot box than those who give an honest effort to fixing the problems before them. We'll see.

In the meantime, Speaker Craddick has at long last endorsed the Perry/TTRC plan (more here). The special session call is all about taxes, and the House has a game plan for passing the bills they're proposing. PinkDome spells out who's sponsoring what, while over in the Senate, Sen. Florence Shapiro is in on the action as well.

Other bills and resolutions are being introduced as well. Some of them have to do with the issues before the Lege, and others, well, I'll get to that in a second. For now, Rep. Debbie "Pit of Hell" Riddle is flogging the appraisal cap horse, though this time with a narrower focus.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, filed legislation Monday that would give counties the local authority to cap property appraisal caps in just that county.


Under Riddle's bill, the county commissioners could call the election, and decide the appropriate percentage of the appraisal cap to be not less than three percent and not more than ten percent. The measure would then have to pass a popular vote during the general election.


To become effective, Riddle's legislation would require passage of a state constitutional amendment. That requires a two-thirds affirmative vote by both chambers of the Lege before going to a statewide vote of the people.

Whatever. I guess I'm not clear on why a county couldn't impose a lower appraisal cap on its own right now, but I suppose that must be the case. Requiring a constitutional amendment may be too tall an order. I'll bet there's a nontrivial number of counties that are happy with the status quo, and if all it takes is 51 Nays in the House, that may be enough to kill it.

On a different note, Rep. Lon Burnam has filed his own set of bills for the session, including one that calls for the establishment of a state income tax (cue dramatic music here). Here's his press release (pdf) on the matter.

And then there's HR27, by Rep. Tony Goolsby, which takes a commanding early lead in the Least Relevant Bill or Resolution sweepstakes for the session. What does this gem of legislative effort do?

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 79th Texas Legislature, 3rd Called Session, hereby honor Karl Rove on his roast at the 50th anniversary gala of the Headliners Club and recognize him for the pivotal role he has played in shaping U.S. politics and policies at the opening of the 21st century; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for Mr. Rove as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives.

This would be fluffy and pointless during a regular session, though at least it would have plenty of company in that regard. In a special session like this, it's not only a complete waste of time, it's also a finger in the eye of 64 members of the House at a time when consensus is needed more than ever. I agree with PinkDome - some Democrat needs to make a fuss about this, if for no other reason than to say that at least some of them are there to work.

Oh, and if you agree that the House would be better served by someone who would not think this was a good time to honor a divisive blackguard like Karl Rove, then I invite you to meet Goolsby's opponent in November, Harriet Miller, whom I had the pleasure of talking to recently at an Annie's List event here in Houston. Miller came out of nowhere to make a race in HD102 in 2004, where she outperformed the average Democrat by over three points (46.8 to 43.5), and she's made that seat into one of the top pickup targets this year. Check her out.

UPDATE: More from Vince.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 17, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

Support Goolsby's opponent, Harriet Miller. Harriet is a great candidate - give her some money or volunteer if you can!


Posted by: CouldBeTrue on April 18, 2006 6:22 AM