February 15, 2007
Senate votes to exceed spending cap

Though the Senate tried to go the constitutional amendment route, in they end they simply voted to exceed the spending cap on their own.

"It's essential in order to permit us to provide local school property tax (relief) to homeowners and to businesses ... and not shut down government," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said after the 17-12 Senate vote.

If approved by the House, Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 would allow lawmakers to break the cap that ties certain state spending to economic growth. It thus would allow them to keep their promise to cut local school property tax rates without cutting billions of planned spending in other areas when they write the budget.

"There's only one thing to do if we can't pass this resolution. That's start cutting," said Sen. Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee and authored the resolution.

Dewhurst said the resolution's language had been cleared with House Speaker Tom Craddick, whose staff said the measure would be considered next week by the House.

Republicans Jane Nelson, Robert Nichols, and Dan Patrick voted no along with every Democrat except for Eddie Lucio. I expected this to pass one way or another, and given a choice, I'd prefer it to have happened this way. If nothing else, it'll allow for a nice clear distinction about which party sides with the majority of the public regarding school funding. There was a bigger issue at play here, however:

Because the vote was done in the form of a resolution, it didn't go through a committee hearing as other legislation does -- although the idea was considered in a committee as part of another measure. It also didn't require the usual two-thirds vote to consider legislation.

The two-thirds tradition in the Senate -- where the GOP has a 20-11 edge -- generally requires the majority to work with opponents to achieve some measure of consensus before a bill is debated.

"If you can circumvent the committee process like this, then how does the public really have the opportunity to weigh in?" said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

GOP Sens. Jane Nelson of Lewisville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, who joined nine Democrats and Patrick in voting against the measure, expressed concern with how quickly the vote proceeded.

As noted by Vince, this raises the question of how else David Dewhurst is going to seek to circumvent the two thirds rule. Like it or not, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary appears to be underway.

Ogden noted lawmakers also got flak when they proposed tying the spending-cap vote to a proposed constitutional amendment on tax relief for seniors. He cited testimony about holding "elderly people hostage."

Such sentiments helped prompt lawmakers to strip the spending-cap vote from a separate measure approved Wednesday to amend the state constitution to ensure older Texans get the same proportion of property tax relief as other homeowners.

The measure for seniors passed unanimously, and I fully expect you'll see it on a ballot near you soon. Now we'll see what the House will make of all this. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 15, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo