April 24, 2006
What is the Lege up to now?

As I understand it, the debate on HB3 will be going till midnight or so. That's past my bedtime, so I'll do a link roundup now and figure out the news in the morning. Here's what we know so far.

The first thing you need to know is that HB1, the Get Out Of Dodge plan, has passed out of the House by a near-unanimous margin.

The House approved an 11 percent cut in school property taxes Monday that proponents said would ensure schools stay open this year.

"We can go home and tell the people that we have reduced the property taxes, that the schools will stay open in June," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.


House Bill 1 passed 139-5.

The idea behind it is that the state will give school districts more than $2 billion from the state's surplus, and the districts will use that money to lower their tax rates to provide some breathing room between themselves and the maximum rate. Then, the districts can exercise their newfound discretion and inch their tax rates back up.

This is presumably for the worst-case scenario (at least, worst from some perspectives) that nothing else gets done. One assumes no one wants to face the voters if the schools are not open. As I've said before, however, wait until the West Orange-Cove plaintiffs make their next move before you breathe any sighs of relief. More on this here, here (on recapture), here, and (much more) here.

The most blatantly political thing to happen today was this.

The House version of Gov. Rick Perry’s tax overhaul says that the secretary of state - an office that has little involvement in tax policy - will write a letter and send it to county tax assessor-collectors so they can send it out to taxpayers around Oct. 1. The letter would tell voters, er, taxpayers about the property-tax reductions that, presumably, the Legislature will have just passed.

Some lawmakers said this is simply a government-funded political advertisement a month before an election. “When we tax people and we charge them a tax, we don’t ever send them a notice,” said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, tried to change the proposal so the comptroller, who deals very much with tax policy, would write the letter. Initially an effort to kill her amendment was defeated. But then some lawmakers’ “machines malfunctioned.” Here’s what that usually means: They either saw how the vote came out and didn’t want to make anyone important mad by siding with the wrong side, or they were asked nicely by House leaders to change their votes. When the dust settled, Hernandez’s amendment failed.

Something else to keep in mind: the comptroller is a woman named Carole Keeton Strayhorn who is running against GOP Gov. Rick Perry. She has called Perry’s tax proposal, in part, a “hot check.” Her letter indeed would have been interesting.

Instead it will be written by Perry’s appointed secretary of state.

“It’s for transparency, it’s to make sure everyone is aware of what we have done,” said Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, a proponent of sending a letter authored by the secretary of state.

Seems pretty transparent, indeed.

No freaking kidding. If the Democrats in this state had any money, you could make a nice attack ad out of this. Hell, maybe Strayhorn will - for sure she won't be quiet about it. Go for it, Carole, this is exactly the sort of thing you really excel at. Kudos to Rep. Ana Hernandez, in her first session, for nearly giving this turkey the shiv it deserved. More here and here. Some tidbits on the current status of opposition to HB3 is here. Aaron Pena still thinks it will pass, albeit narrowly.

That's about it for now. Other coverage can be found via Matt, In the Pink, and here. If you haven't bookmarked Capitol Annex yet, do it - Vince has been glued to the live feeds, and is transcribing up a storm. More tomorrow when the dailies do their thing.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 24, 2006 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack