April 20, 2006
Restricting debate on HB1

Many things are happening in the Lege. Let's start with this:

A procedural rule will be introduced tomorrow in the House as the first frontal assault on teachers, schools, and school districts. The rule will dictate the procedure of the house and will regulate amendments, costs, and most importantly the required focus of the legislation.

The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that the current property tax is an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Now, Austin is in a frenzy trying to fix the problem and “get out of dodge.”

If legislators vote for the proposed rule tomorrow, they will be voting for restricting House Bill 1 (The Highland Park Windfall Proposal) to only taxation issues and will not address school funding.

This will mandate that no amendment can be offered to increase teacher pay, no new textbooks, no funding for school facilities, no teacher health insurance, and no extra funding for transportation during these time of extraordinary gas prices.

The Quorum Report gives some background on this.

Once upon a time, the only thing the Calendars Committee did was set a calendar for the order of bills to be taken up by the House.

That changed a few years ago after Republicans gained the majority in the House and tried to pass a tax bill. Surprising some of the members, the House adopted a rule that prohibited any amendment that changed the value of the tax bill. No amendment could add or subtract from the dollar value of the tax bill. Every amendment had to be zero sum.

Tomorrow, the House is set to take up a similar rule to lock down the debate on House Bills 1-5. It is being cast as a purely procedural vote.

One of the key issues in the Madla-Uresti battle was the incumbent Senator's procedural vote to allow the bill to the floor that ended up transforming the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

On the other side, parents and teachers had considerable success in the Republican primary, characterizing candidates as either pro or anti public education.

In the Capitol halls today, some in the education community are arguing that passage of a Calendar Rule tomorrow could ultimately end any shot at a teacher pay raise or any of the other issues on the education community agenda for the special session.

As one source said, "There is only bill that has to pass. If we can't get anything in there that works for us, we won't be able to later on. No matter what they promise, it will be difficult to get a trailing bill to the floor before the clock runs out."

They added, "Procedural votes have shown up in a few campaigns. That's a fact."

In a just released statement, House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam bemoaned Speaker Craddick's refusal to recognize him to consider some House procedural reforms. He said, "Throughout these special sessions, we’ve seen devastating rules that have prevented every single member from offering any amendments that spend one dime on public education. Tomorrow we expect to see another rule proposed designed to stop any legislation to help improve schools. In other words, if the proposed rule passes, there will be no additional money dedicated to our schools, our kids, or our teachers. One of the provisions in the open government proposal - that Speaker Craddick killed today - would require a 2/3 majority of the House to pass such devastating and harmful calendar rules that restrict debate and handcuff members."

I've gotten an email showing the type of attack mailers, from both parties' primaries, that focused on these kinds of procedural votes - here's one example from a Dem perspective. Legislators will have a lot to think about when this comes up.

Here is the full statement by Reps. Jim Dunnam, Garnet Coleman, and Scott Hochberg regarding the plan to restrict amendments on HBs 1 through 5. An excerpt:

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Chair of the Legislative Study Group, observed that three years ago the same leadership we have today cut over $3 billion in education funding, including effective dropout prevention programs, the health insurance stipend for teacher and school employees, and initiatives designed to help at-risk students improve basic math and reading skills.

"The $3 billion cut in 2003 has grown to $4.35 billion in unmet education needs," Coleman explained. "With an $8 billion 'surplus' and a $5 billion Perry Tax proposal on the table, a plan that fails to restore funding cuts and takes our children's schools out of school finance is a sham that borders on criminal neglect."

Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), noted that last year the House was told repeatedly that $3 billion was set aside for education.

"The $3 billion that was promised for education has shrunk to zero, despite the fact that the Texas Supreme Court warned us that state funding for public education was 'drifting toward constitutional inadequacy'," Hochberg said. "Last year, we secured a bipartisan majority for a plan that offered a vision for educational excellence and lower property taxes, but this year, the leadership is pushing a plan and a process that would send us spiraling toward inadequacy and neglect."

Rep. Hochberg outlined a solution that gives equal emphasis to investing in our children's schools and providing meaningful tax relief for all Texans. The equal investment plan includes raising teacher pay across the board, restoring health insurance benefits for both teachers and educational support personnel that were cut in 2003, providing funds necessary for up-to-date textbooks and reducing class sizes with new facility funding for classrooms.

The Democrats are pushing the Hochberg Amendment, which you may recall was the one school finance reform bill that actually passed in the House last year. A summary of the plan is here.

Meanwhile, the CPPP is attacking the "Get Out Of Dodge" plan by saying it's really a "radical change in the law".

HB 1 compresses the property tax rate from $1.50 to $1.33. It continues the current law guaranteed yield at $27.14, meaning that for every penny of property tax, the state guarantees a local school district $27.14 per student.

HB 1 then takes the radical step of eliminating recapture above $1.33, dramatically increasing the revenue gap between rich and poor school districts. For example, Highland Park Independent School District could raise $127 more per student merely by going to a tax rate of $1.34, and $2,163 per student by going to a tax rate of $1.50.

In contrast, 820 school districts could only raise $27.14 more per student at $1.34, and only $461 more per student by going to $1.50. On average, the wealthiest 10% of the districts could raise $841 more per student at $1.50.

The letter goes on to say that limiting recapture in this fashion is in violation of the West Orange-Cove decision.

Like I said, much is happening. Tomorrow is going to be a fun day.

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Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 20, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack