April 03, 2007
Talton 2, Turner 0

As he did with the CHIP bill, State Rep. Robert Talton has (temporarily, at least) derailed a measure by Rep. Sylvester Turner via point of order.

Rep. Sylvester Turner's effort to restore electricity discounts for thousands of low-income Texans was delayed by a point of order in the Texas House on Monday, though Turner said he'll retool the measure and bring it back soon.

"Not dead by a long shot," the Houston Democrat said.

Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, derailed the proposal by invoking a House rule that restricts consideration of legislation diverting state funds until after lawmakers send a budget to the state comptroller and the comptroller certifies it -- no earlier than the 119th day of each 140-day regular session.

Turner said he'll fix the weakness exploited by Talton's point of order by creating a dedicated account within the state budget.

Turner had proposed establishing a trust fund to corral dollars raised by a fee of about $1 levied on monthly electric bills. Utility discounts for low-income Texans were funded from the collected fees until 2003, when lawmakers shrunk the program. Members cut off the utility discounts entirely in 2005, with the fees' revenue going to general budgetary purposes.

Turner seeks to bring the discounts back -- adding in utility discounts for non-profit nursing homes as well.

The discount in question is known as the System Benefit Fund (SBF), about which you can learn more here. The SBF is a dedicated fund that has been raided for general revenue and budget-balancing purposes for the past several sessions. It's supposed to be used to help needy folks with their ever-escalating electric bills, but other needs have trumped that purpose. The CPPP has a detailed discussion of the ins and outs of dedicated funds versus general revenue, with the SBF as an example, here (PDF). There's broad support for Turner's bill, which I meant to write something about before it came up for a vote but never quite got to, but that apparently wasn't enough to keep it from meeting this ignominious fate. Capitol Letters has more on the politics of Talton's maneuver, while Inside the Texas Capitol connects objections by Turner to a Calendars rule to the fate his bill ultimately suffered.

Meanwhile, say whatever else you will about Talton, he's consistent:

Talton said he doesn't think the fees should be collected at all. He said too that utilities are free to give discounts to customers, as it should be. "If I can vote for smaller government, it's fine with me," he said.

Like I said before, it's all about the values.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 03, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo

A significant part of this story not being reported is that Milton Rister, the chief GOP oppositon researcher and longtime political operative, is in league with Talton to bottle up these bills.

As head of the Legislative Council, Rister is in a unique position to kill bills by tipping off Talton to points of order. He kills what the leadership asks him to, and they appear to remain above the fray.

Posted by: dd on April 3, 2007 9:13 AM