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February 9th, 2021:

Will the Lege cut Ken Paxton’s budget?

The first draft budget includes a significant cut, but it’s early days.

Best mugshot ever

Already under investigation by the FBI and facing calls to resign from both the left and the right, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton now has the Texas Legislature to worry about.

State lawmakers have rolled out an initial state budget that would slash his request for funding and eliminate more than 150 positions from his office — far deeper cuts than most state agencies face, reducing his staffing to its lowest level since he was elected.

In October, Paxton requested $1.26 billion over two years for his agency with 4,217 positions. Instead, the Texas Senate will begin debate on a budget plan this week that would give him $1.17 billion over the two years and 4,063 positions. That represents $89 million less than requested and 154 fewer positions.

Neither the Republican attorney general nor his colleagues in the state Senate are saying much publicly about the cuts, but that will change on Wednesday when Paxton and his staff are set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have a lot of questions that need to be asked,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who is a member of that committee.

The cuts stand out when compared to the proposed budgets of other statewide elected officials. Gov. Greg Abbott and State Comptroller Glenn Hegar both are getting exactly the amount of money and staff they requested.

“Many state agencies saw a reduction in our introduced budget, including the attorney general,” said Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We made clear we did not want to see a reduction in services for crime victims, including rape crisis center services and sexual assault nurse examiners. This is a starting point.”

[…]

One of the biggest proposed cuts is to Paxton’s fund for hiring outside law firms, consultants, expert witnesses and information technology services. He asked for $205 million for the two-year budget, but the Senate is proposing $118 million.

Paxton’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In budget documents, Paxton says he needs tens of millions of additional funding for managing crime victims services programs and for technology upgrades.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the slowdown in oil and gas revenues, most agencies have been warned to lower their budget expectations.

The proposed cuts come as Paxton faces other administrative woes.

In 2019, the Legislature halted work on upgrading the child support enforcement system that had been on the books since before Paxton took office. Originally budged at $223.6 million, the project had jumped to $419.6 million before lawmakers finally pulled the plug. State budget writers cited the terminated project as a key reason for Paxton’s drop in funding.

Although it is not detailed in his budget request, the Associated Press reported Paxton was seeking about $43 million in state funding to hire outside attorneys for a high-profile antitrust lawsuit against Google. The whistleblowers told the Associated Press that before they reported him to the FBI in September and began resigning, the lawsuit against the search engine giant was set to be handled internally. Paxton runs one of the largest state attorney general’s offices in the United States.

See here for the background. It’s too early to say what will happen – he may answer all of those questions that Bettencourt and others want to ask in a satisfactory way to them on Wednesday, or maybe the Lege will give him more money for things they approve of to make up for the things they cut. Even if there is ultimately a net decrease in funding for Paxton, that doesn’t mean it will be taken as a rebuke for anything in particular. But at least it gets the conversation started.

RIP, Rep. Ron Wright

Condolences to his friends and family.

Rep. Ron Wright

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican, has died.

His campaign staff announced the news Monday. Wright had lived for years with cancer and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January. He was 67.

“His wife Susan was by his side and he is now in the presence of their Lord and Savior,” the statement said. “Over the past few years, Congressman Wright had kept a rigorous work schedule on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and at home in Texas’ Congressional District 6 while being treated for cancer. For the previous two weeks, Ron and Susan had been admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas after contracting COVID-19.”

Wright was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2018, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was previously hospitalized in mid-September.

Wright was in his second term in the U.S. House, but he was no stranger to Congress or local politics. A fan of bow ties, Wright was a fixture in the Tarrant County political scene. In the late 1990s, Wright was a columnist for the Star-Telegram. In 2000, he shifted to the political arena to serve as former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s district director and as an at-large member of the Arlington City Council through 2008. From 2004-08, Wright held the post of mayor pro tempore.

[…]

The district is historically Republican, but Democrats made some effort to challenge the district in the last two cycles. Even so, Wright won reelection by a 9-percentage-point margin in 2020.

There will be a special election at some point for this seat, and it should be pretty competitive. CD06 was carried by Trump by a 51-48 margin in 2020; Joe Biden’s performance there closely matches Beto’s 48% in 2018. Trump had won CD06 by a 54-42 margin in 2016, so this was a big shift in the Dem direction, with Tarrant County leading the way. CD06 was low on the Dem target list in 2020, but I expect it to get a lot more attention in 2021. If this develops as a D versus R runoff, look for a lot of money to be spent on it.

That’s for another day. Today we mourn the passing of Rep. Ron Wright. May he rest in peace.

Vaccines at the stadia

Good. Everyone has a role to play in getting us all vaccinated.

The NFL is telling the federal government it will make the remaining of the league’s 30 stadiums available as COVID-19 vaccination sites, joining the seven facilities already administering the vaccine.

In a letter to President Joe Biden obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said many of the stadiums should be able to get vaccination efforts moving quickly because of previous offers to use stadiums as virus testing centers and election sites.

The seven clubs already using their stadiums as vaccine sites are Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Houston, Miami and New England.

“We look forward to further discussion with your administration as well as your partners in state and local governments to advance this effort,” Goodell wrote to Biden in a letter dated Thursday.

Goodell said the offer on vaccination sites was made in conjunction with the NFL inviting 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to attend the Super Bowl for free Sunday. Kansas City is playing Tampa Bay in the Buccaneers’ home stadium.

If we can get supply ramped up enough, we should be in a better position to actually get the shots into people’s arms. Every little bit helps.