In the end, thanks in large part to the stimulus package and its infusion of funds that prevented the need to dip into the Rainy Day Fund, the budget process was relatively uncontroversial. Yesterday, it was passed by the House, and is now on its way to Governor Perry's desk.
With just three days left in the 81st Texas Legislature, the only thing certain was the state's $182.3 billion budget, which, among other things, increases spending for the mentally disabled, correctional officer salaries, college financial aid and pre-kindergarten programs. Most of the money, which includes $12.1 billion in federal economic stimulus dollars, is dedicated to education and health care.
Of greater interest at this time is the handful of bills that are still struggling to stay alive.
The House kept the debate on windstorm insurance reform alive by agreeing to seek a compromise on the bill in a joint conference committee. Perry has told lawmakers he will call a special session if the windstorm insurance reform does not pass.
At issue is how to keep solvent the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which provides insurance for homeowners who cannot find private coverage -- without pushing insurance rates up. Hurricanes Ike and Dolly busted the association with an unexpected $2 billion in payouts.
Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood said they hope to reach a settlement so as "not to have a special session."
Also Friday, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said he was still trying to revive the Children's Health Insurance Program. An effort earlier this week to piggyback CHIP on a bill for newborn disease screening did not comply with House rules that subjects be "germane."
Although a coalition representing 70 groups called on legislative leaders to "take all necessary means" to pass the bill, the prospect is dim.
Disputes also were holding up a bill to renew the life of the Texas Department of Transportation for another two years. Portions of the bill call for a local option gas tax, supported by business leaders and elected officials from North Texas and San Antonio.
In Harris County, officials are keeping an eye on a provision that could limit or ban new cameras being placed at intersections to catch red-light runners.
Finally, one bit of bad news.
At the stroke of midnight on Friday, House Bill 1243 turned into a pumpkin and a fairy godmother was nowhere to be found to save it or the electric cooperative measure attached to it.
Provisions to improve accountability in the electric cooperatives, including Pedernales Electric Cooperative, had been tacked on to the bill in the Senate. And Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, challenged whether that amendment and others belonged on the bill.
A lengthy confab at the dais followed by a postponement delayed a vote on whether to send the bill to a conference committee, called for by Turner, until shortly before midnight. That vote failed 48 to 90.
But by the time Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, stepped to the microphone to save the bill, it was too late.
Another half-hour of parliamentary hand-wringing ensued. But, in the end, the glass slipper didn't fit.
Gov. Rick Perry today indicated that he opposes a plan to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, putting in jeopardy of a veto a measure that has been a top priority this session for children's advocates.
But the CHIP bill appears unlikely to make it to his desk at all. The House today rejected a Senate attempt to attach it to an unrelated measure.
Talking with reporters, Perry was asked if he'd consider having the Legislature take up CHIP if he calls a special session. He said no.
When asked why not, Perry said: "I would probably not be in favor of that expansion even if it came to my desk. I think the members know that. That is not what I consider to be a piece of legislation that has the vast support of the people of the state of Texas."
The Senate late Wednesday revived the CHIP legislation by attaching it to a measure about newborn screening, and the CHIP bill's Senate author, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, sent out a press release declaring: "Averitt saves CHIP."
The author of the newborn screening measure, Rep. Paula Pierson, D-Arlington, who supports the CHIP expansion, said today the House is sending the screening bill back to the Senate. That's because the CHIP amendment would have doomed the measure in the House, she said. "It was dead on arrival," Pierson said.
It is unconscionable, in these tough economic times, that Governor Perry will veto legislation that will help working Texas parents purchase insurance for their children. Legislation creating a buy-in program for CHIP passed last night with a 29-2 vote in the Senate, and it passed last month from the House with a vote of 87-55. This bill was specifically written with the strictest "crowd out" language possible to ensure that private health insurance is not substituted by CHIP coverage. The Governor is clearly out of touch with the needs of Texas.
Not unexpectedly, SB1569 was a casualty of the weekend chubfest. Also not surprisingly, it was basically chubbed by Republicans, who wanted to ensure its death as the local and consent calendar was finally finished up a little before the midnight deadline. I'm disappointed to see this bill die, but given that it hadn't been passed by a veto-proof majority in time for the inevitable veto to be overridden, it was doomed anyway. If that helps the House Republicans blow off some steam, then so be it.
On the good side, CHIP expansion got new life.
The Texas Senate late Wednesday, facing a midnight deadline, used a House bill concerning newborn screening to revive a measure aimed at expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The CHIP amendment allows some families with incomes above current limits to buy into the insurance program.
The measure now heads back to the House with changes approved in the Senate.
I'm including an excerpt from Ed Sills' Texas AFL-CIO email newsletter about SB1569 beneath the fold. Click on to read it.
The conference committee on the budget finished its work yesterday.
While final details are still emerging, the 10 conferees worked out a last minute plan for spending $700 million of federal stimulus money for state fiscal stabilization. They hope that it will avert a special session, even if Perry vetoes some or all of the money. It appeared to go to school textbooks in part. And there were other things funded that are near and dear to the Perry family, such as preservation of a couple more county courthouses ($7 million) and restoring the fire-gutted Governor's Mansion.
Unclear at this time is the fate of the Davis/Walle amendment, which would drain money from the Texas Enterprise Fund in the event that SB1569 gets vetoed. And speaking of SB1569, it took a few steps forward in the House, but ultimately was not brought to a vote. The best writeup I've seen about what went on during this comes from Ed Sills' TxAFLCIOENews; I've reproduced it beneath the fold.
According to Brandi Grissom on Twitter, the House has recessed for the night due to its computers being down, without having passed any bills today. They're scheduled to work Saturday and Sunday, and according to Gardner Selby, voter ID is supposedly atop the calendar for Saturday. That's assuming they actually get to it - as we've seen multiple times this session, being on the calendar is no guarantee of anything. The Democrats will surely do what they can to run out the clock if they feel they must. We'll see how far down the agenda the House gets tomorrow.
Sen. Steve Ogden just announced that his rider banning use of state funds for embryonic stem cell research will not appear in the new state budget.
"We really couldn't come to a consensus" so the bill will be silent on the stem cell issue, Ogden announced in this morning's conference committee meeting on the budget bill. "I continue to be concerned about us continuing to be silent" on what he called "a profound issue."
While the federal government has guidelines and regulations concerning use of federal money in such research, "in Texas there are none. I hope even though we adopt this rider (the House version, which was silent on stem cell research), it is not the last word on this subject," Ogden said.
Now, if the Davis/Walle amendment on unemployment insurance and the Texas Enterprise Fund survives, then I'll be even happier. The House is supposed to take up SB1569 tomorrow, which likely doesn't leave enough time to pass it and override a veto, so the best bet to make sure Texas gets the unemployment funds it needs is to make it painful for Rick Perry to reject them. Let's hope it happens.
The battle over the dueling strip club bills in the Lege this session has mostly been over how much revenue each would collect. But the state has to actually collect that revenue for any of that to be relevant.
Dozens of strip clubs across Texas have ignored a 2007 law requiring them to charge a $5-per-patron entrance fee, potentially costing the state millions of dollars meant to fund sexual assault programs, records show.
Not a dime has yet been used to help the victims of sexual assault.
Since the law went into effect last year, only about $12.2 million has been collected by the state under the law for sexual assault prevention and treatment, far less than the $50 million that had been expected.
"We are, of course, disappointed," said Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. "But hopefully there will be more resources set aside for the comptroller to actually monitor this in the future."
Cohen said she wasn't surprised that some clubs have ignored the current law, especially in light of the uncertainty created by the court challenge and by the pending legislation.
"If they want to wait and see what's going to happen, that's their choice. They may end up having to pay it and penalties -- I don't know," she said. "I do respect those clubs that have stepped up to the plate and paid."
Topless and nude clubs in Houston and San Antonio have remitted about $4.3 million, about a third of the state total, records show.
More than 100 clubs, however, have ignored the fee entirely, while others have paid only small amounts. Some say they don't want to charge customers more at the door.
Good news on the CHIP front.
The Texas House today gave final approval to a measure that would expand the Children's Heath Insurance Program by allowing certain families who earn more than the current income limit to pay to join the program. The vote was 87-55.
The measure could add some 80,000 children to CHIP. It now heads to the Senate, which has already passed a similar measure.
The author of the CHIP bill, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he fully agrees with expanding the Medicaid enrollment period. But he said that sending the CHIP bill to the Senate with the Medicaid measure attached may have doomed the entire measure. "It would have become a poison pill," Coleman said.
The Medicaid proposal by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D- Houston, has a much larger price tag than the CHIP one -- nearly $300 million over two years, compared to about $40 million for the CHIP bill. The Medicaid proposal could add some 258,000 children to Medicaid.
Coleman said that it's become clear that the state budget won't include money for the Medicaid proposal. Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, who is on the House team negotiating the final version of the budget with members of the Senate, said that though the Medicaid bill has "a pretty steep price tag," it's too early to say for sure whether it has a future in the budget.
The income limit for CHIP is now $44,100 for a family of four. (It's $22,050 for Medicaid).
Under the CHIP bill, a family of four earning between $44,100 and and $66,150 a year could join the program. Unlike the existing CHIP program, families would pay monthly premiums on a sliding scale based on income and family size. The House version would also allow families of four earning between $66,150 and $88,200 to pay the full cost of the program to join (roughly $150 per child per month). Also, the House version would reinstate a "medically needy" program for adults that the Legislature cut in 2003 -- it covers health care costs for people with catastrophic medical needs.
Last night at midnight was the first major deadline in the House. Any bill that had not been passed on second reading was officially dead for the session, though some may get reincarnated as amendments to already-approved bills. About three quarters of the 5000 bills filed in the House suffered this fate, including some high profile ones such as the concealed-carry on campus bill and, I'm sad to say, HB222, the poker bill.
A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling never made it onto the calendar. Sponsors had said they would not ask it to be set unless there were enough votes to pass. They never reached the necessary 100 votes.
The bill to legalize poker games at horse and dog tracks had a chance of getting on the calendar, but sponsor Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said he was pulling it off because Gov. Rick Perry's staff assured him the governor would veto it.
"Sometimes you flush good will if you put a dead bill out on the floor," Menendez said, explaining his decision to withdraw the measure without debate.
Their chances looked better than ever this year, with a strapped state budget and a new House speaker with interests in a San Antonio racetrack.
But in the end, lawmakers say, the expectation of federal stimulus dollars kept the state from getting desperate for money. And the major casino gambling legislation needed 100 votes in the 150-member House, a threshold that the bill's sponsors couldn't reach in such a divided chamber. And even if the poker bill had passed, Gov. Rick Perry probably would've vetoed it.
"We came into the session billions of dollars short. The stimulus pulled us out of dire straits," said Menendez, D-San Antonio. "If we were cutting school budgets and not giving teachers raises, we would see a lot more willingness."
Gambling opponents say it's easy to blame the bill's failure on a budget bailout. But they argue that the real reason gambling gets no traction session after session is because it's bad policy.
Suzii Paynter, with the Baptist General Convention's Christian Life Commission, said the promises of jobs and tax revenue that supporters make are exaggerated.
"Gaming legislation has failed because the more people look into the promises that are made, the more weaknesses they see in the proposal," Paynter said.
The bad news is that Texas' rate of unemployment continues to rise. The good news is that this means more federal funds for unemployment insurance are available, and these come with no conditions on them.
Texas now qualifies, thanks to the state's steadily rising unemployment rate, for $250 million of string-free federal money. That money would provide another 13 weeks of unemployment benefits -- at no cost to the state -- for some 70,000 workers whose benefits are set to expire beginning in July, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
There is a catch, however. The Legislature needs to make a technical tweak to state law and the only bill that would be germane and appears to be moving is Senate Bill 1569.
That bill would enact the necessary changes for Texas to access $555 million of federal money to expand unemployment eligibility. But that money comes with strings that Gov. Rick Perry has said are unacceptable.
The bill passed out of the Senate weeks ago and is lingering in the House Calendars Committee. It could come up early next week -- and likely pass. But that would not be soon enough to allow time for a veto override should Perry choose to exercise that authority.
Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said House members intend to attach the tweak to SB 1569 when it comes to the floor. The additional $250 million -- and the tens of thousands of unemployed workers that would get extended benefits -- might just change the dynamic for the governor, said the bill's proponents.
Bill author Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he has long kept hope alive that Perry would not veto the bill and this money has stoked his hope.
And if more incentive is needed, here's the CPPP with some hard figures.
As of May 5, more than 353,000 Texans were receiving unemployment benefits, more than triple the number of Texans receiving UI benefits a year ago. Currently pending in House Calendars, SB 1569 strengthens our UI system to protect unemployed Texans and qualifies Texas for $555 million in federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for our UI Trust Fund. But the Legislature has overlooked an entirely separate pot of money in the ARRA that is equally important. About 70,000 Texans are expected to exhaust their federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) beginning in July. The ARRA will pick up the 100 percent of the costs to extend UI for these Texans, delivering more than $250 million in federal funds into the Texas economy without any state costs. In order to qualify, Texas must change its extended benefits statutory trigger to activate the program; the change can expire when the full federal funding phases out in 2010.
Has there ever been a legislative session that didn't deal with school finance? This Lege is dealing with it as well, and the good news is they may have made some actual progress.
Texas teachers would get an $800-a-year raise and the Dallas school district would be protected from becoming a "Robin Hood" district for several years under a school finance bill that the House tentatively approved on Monday.
The measure also would merge the state's two teacher incentive pay plans into one program and sharply reduce the amount of the merit pay that would have to be awarded based on student test scores.
Total state funding would increase about $1.9 billion over the next two years, with school districts required to spend at least half of their new state money on teacher salaries. The Dallas school district would see its funding rise $100 per student - just under 2 percent - for a total increase of about $17.5 billion.
School districts had sought more funding, but state leaders said earlier this year that a slowdown in state revenue would prevent a sizable increase.
"Every one of our school districts needs more money," said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who laid out the school funding bill to the chamber. But even with the small increase, he added, "this is a fair bill and it is a balanced bill."
One significant change in the bill would raise the threshold for determining which school districts must share their property tax revenue under the Robin Hood provisions of the school finance system. Last year, those districts were required to give up more than $1 billion to help equalize funding across the state.
Two of the biggest beneficiaries are the Dallas and Houston school districts, which are expected to join the ranks of high-property-wealth districts that must share their tax revenue next year. Under the House bill, both would be protected from becoming share-the-wealth districts for several years.
Is there a Medicaid issue or not?
Scaling back steroid testing in the schools
Watch out for Medicaid
Tuition reregulation passes the Senate
CHIP and Medicaid advance
Get ready for the next school funding lawsuit
House committee passes SB1569
House budget conferees announced
More Tier I schools
Perry's ongoing war on the unemployed
Where the stimulus funds are going
Senate passes SB1569, but may not be able to override a veto
House passes budget, slaps Perry
Stem cells and the budget battle
Funding the state cancer research initiative
Senate approves stimulus funds for unemployment insurance
Doing the easy part
Oh by the way, the unemployment trust fund is going broke
House panel passes its budget
Senate passes budget
Senate committee passes unemployment insurance reform
Senate panel approves budget
Response from the racetracks
Red light camera revenues unspent
Ogden's stem cell skulduggery
How much money would expanded gambling generate?
Property values declining
Coleman pushing for CHIP restoration
Planning the workaround
More on the end of the sixty-five percent rule
Parker versus Perry
Lege versus Gov on unemployment funds
Once more with the stimulus and unemployment insurance
Money for movies
Two stories about gambling
Here comes stimulus money
The stimulus and the budget
Reason #437 why I'm skeptical of the gambling industry
They paid their taxes, too
Will we or won't we fix unemployment insurance?
Sixty-five percent of nothing
Stimulus for the schools
So about those stimulus funds
Tough times for local governments
It's 2009 and we're still arguing about CHIP
Beware Lt. Govs bearing gifts
We have the beginnings of a budget
When you look up "short-sighted" in the dictionary, this will be cited as an example
There are still a few Republican grownups left
Hey, there's an idea!
Don't forget Frew
Does it look like it's raining to you?
That sound you hear is state revenues falling
Gambling and Speaker Straus
The sales tax slowdown
Where the business margins tax money came from
The gas tax
School finance: Sorta kinda important to the Lege
Economy affecting school bonds
Accenture, Texas finalize divorce
There is no surplus
Business tax: Still short
Moratorium on power cutoffs urged
HISD settles with comptroller
It sucks to be a school district
A billion short
The tax that dare not speak its name
TIERS for Medicaid
College tuition, the continuing story
Business tax revenues falling short of projections
Dan Patrick wants to raise your taxes
The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem
Casey on the appraisal problem
HISD versus HCAD
Coming attractions on the business tax
From the "Dance with them what brung you" files
Don't talk about tuition!
The answer is staring you in the face
More TIERS coming
Business tax turmoil
More financial gloom from the school districts
High oil prices are good for Texas
School districts predict financial disaster in their futures
When all else fails, create a task force
Twelve-month re-ups the hard way
The DMN writes about the HHSC
"Privatization failure is taxpayers' burden"
TIERS and problems go hand in hand
HISD becomes a rich district
Time for another S-CHIP veto override effort
The CPPP explains (again!) why Phil King's sales tax swap is a bad idea
HHSC Employee back in the blogging saddle
And in other news, Governor Perry's property tax cut claims are still phony
Cornyn defends his anti-CHIP votes
The anti-business tax sentiment
Know your HHSC contractors
TIERS: Still bad
Lawmakers want agency ad dollars audited
KBH weasels on S-CHIP
Community college funding finally fixed
CHIP veto upheld
KBH to vote for S-CHIP veto override
Coleman to Abbott: File suit over CHIP
Abstinence education funding cuts coming
Comptroller blinks in dispute against HCAD
Kay Granger targeted for S-CHIP override vote
CPPP statement to Cornyn on S-CHIP
Will the S-CHIP veto be overridden?
Senate passes S-CHIP
S-CHIP bill passes the House, but not by enough
S-CHIP vote in the House today
Those damn call centers again
S-CHIP is back
Is Rube Goldberg in the house?
Community college leaders to state: Hurry up!
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to hire Accenture again
Reversal of community college funding veto?
S-CHIP: The Republican cookie crumbles
Take action on S-CHIP
Cigarette sales down for now
Frew settlement okayed by judge
More pension deal details
Accenture may be gone, but privatization lingers
Talton the Torpedo strikes
Oh, yeah, the budget, too
CHIP deal reached
The CHIP endgame
Budget deal reached
Senate passes CHIP bill
Dewhurst: Senate will pass CHIP bill today
CHIP expansion finally nearing
Watch out for shifting taxes
CHIP administrative issues
Dewhurst finally sees the light on CHIP
"Budgets are moral documents"
The circle of life in Lobbyist Land
System benefit fund advances
TSEU on TIERS and HHSC
Combs rescinds Strayhorn's question about the business tax
HHSC response to OIG report
Fund CHIP fully or lose money
TIERS for Albert Hawkins
CLOUT can sue after all
Time for the real sausagemaking to begin
"I've got a list"
Senate debates the budget
Dewhurst and CHIP
More on the Senate budget
Did we put too much aside for Frew?
No deal yet in Frew lawsuit
Talton 2, Turner 0
It wasn't all Accenture's fault
Budget moves forward with a pay raise for teachers
You know where you can stick your amendments
Budget battles today
Business tax revenue projected to fall short
Two more things about Medicaid
First draft of the budget passes out of committee
The LSG evaluates the CHIP bill
CHIPs and scraps
What will the Medicaid ruling cost Texas?
Accenture contract officially dead
Looks like half a loaf for CHIP
More CHIP resistance
Davis supports easing CHIP requirements
On using funds as they were dedicated
The budget bungle
So long, spending cap
HB2: Property tax cuts uber alles
House committee follows Senate's example
Senate votes to exceed spending cap
Loud and clear, the people say "Support public schools!"
Will the spending cap be punted to the voters?
Heck of a job, Albert
Abbott sues Sprint
Sprint says "Switch"
The business tax needs to be fixed already
Means and ends
Dewhurst's misplaced priorities
Here's a budget priority for you
Appraisal caps no, revenue caps yes
Another story on casino gambling in Texas
Roll 'em if you got 'em
Hoffman: Objectively pro-gambling
That pesky spending cap
Combs' first revenue estimate expected today
How about that Houston housing market?
No new appraisal caps?