At a public hearing on Tuesday, aides to Governor Perry proposed various crazy schemes to restore the $154 million of community college funding that Perry vetoed in June, for which he's been regularly pilloried ever since.
Although lawmakers left unspent more than $2 billion in the two-year budget that starts Sept. 1, Perry and the Legislative Budget Board have limited options in how to spend money between legislative sessions.
To begin with, the senators were surprised to hear that officials would have to take the $154 million from other agencies if they returned the money to the colleges. Unspent money, including the $154 million that was vetoed, is off limits until the Legislature returns in 2009 or Perry calls a special session.
"I've been in some pretty high-level meetings, and that's never been discussed," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "We've got a hell of a problem."
Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, suggested that the state could return to the so-called accounting gimmicks it boasted of eliminating this year. Specifically, Janek suggested deferring payments one day into the next fiscal year.
Because the money that Perry vetoed came from the second year of the upcoming 2008-09 budget, officials could juggle the state's money until the Legislature returned in January of 2009 to address the issue.
Ken Armbrister, the governor's legislative liaison and a former state senator, testified Tuesday that the money should come from other items in the budget "without a very vocal constituency." He suggested juggling some state debt payments.
I think it's fair to say that there's enough momentum in favor of undoing this shortsighted veto of Perry's that it will likely happen. I mean hell, even Tom Craddick favors it (sort of). But as we've seen before, it may be too late to offset the damage done by the veto, since the community colleges need to plan their budgets now. And even if everything does go perfectly, there's still an underlying issue to be dealt with:
Austin Community College President Stephen B. Kinslow said the larger issue is being lost: The state pays only for 52 percent of the education costs at community colleges -- not the 100 percent state officials promised when the community college system was created in the 1970s -- and the state's share is shrinking.