July 26, 2007
Reversal of community college funding veto?

You never know sometimes what will turn into a big political issue. In the wake of the 80th Lege, one of the bigger controversies has turned out to be Governor Perry's veto of $154 million in health benefits for community college employees. It's generated enough heat that he felt the need to publicly defend his actions with an op-ed piece. Well, nearly two weeks after that, it appears the stars may be aligning for a reversal of Perry's cut.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday he wants a quick meeting of legislative budget leaders to restore cut funding for community colleges and a shortage in student financial aid.

Specifically, he wants to find a way to restore $154 million Gov. Rick Perry vetoed from the state budget in June to cover health insurance benefits at community colleges.

"I want to see the $154 million go back to the community colleges," Dewhurst told reporters, saying he was tired of "bickering" over the issue.

"I'm very supportive of our fine community colleges. In my heart, I believe Gov. Perry is, too," he said. "I don't want to see tuition increases, local tax increases or restricting enrollments."

It's impossible to interpret anything David Dewhurst does these days without thinking in terms of a 2010 GOP primary for Governor. In this case, at least, it appears Dewhurst may have done some behind-the-scenes work first, to get everyone on board, before going public with this.

Dewhurst said his office has been working with the governor's office and Speaker Tom Craddick's office to reach agreement on calling a meeting of the Legislative Budget Board, the budget office for state government, as early as September.

Both Craddick and Perry's offices issued statements favoring such a meeting.

"I agree that the issue of funding for community college health insurance is one that needs to be addressed in the near term," Craddick said in a prepared statement.

"My office has been looking at a number of options to do so, and budget execution is, indeed, one way it may be handled."

Perry still stands by his veto on grounds that the two-year schools were using state money for health benefits for non-state employees, said the governor's spokeswoman Krista Moody. But he also believes community colleges are underfunded.

"The governor certainly welcomes input of legislators and is happy to work with the LBB towards meeting the needs of community colleges," she said.

My earlier link to a Burkablog post deconstructs Perry's reasoning. Be that as it may, it's the result that matters, and if the Governor is willing to play ball, then that's a very good thing. It's early days, and I guarantee that the big three will be furiously calculating the politics of this before they commit themselves to anything, but at least we're acknowledging the problem. That's progress. South Texas Chisme has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 26, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo

Chuy Hinojosa deserves a lot of credit for pushing Austin to reconsider. Now it's up to the rest of us to make sure Dewhurst and especially the Governor follow through. It was Perry's spokesman, after all, who said just last week that the chances of that happening were "slim to none."

Posted by: Cafe Tortoli on July 26, 2007 3:56 PM