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line item veto

AG’s office upholds Abbott’s line item vetos

Of course it does.

NO

Gov. Greg Abbott was well within his powers when he vetoed more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office wrote in an opinion issued Monday.

[…]

The nonbinding opinion, written by First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, has the potential to shore up the governor’s power over the budget-writing process if Roy’s interpretation ultimately held up in a court of law.

“The provisions vetoed by the Governor each designate a specific purpose and the amount to be used therefor, and they are items of appropriations subject to the Governor’s veto” Roy wrote.

Abbott’s office praised the opinion Monday evening.

“The Attorney General’s opinion upholds the governor’s constitutional authority to limit unnecessary spending and ensure fiscal solvency,” spokesman John Wittman said.

The Budget Board is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget. Like Abbott, Patrick also publicly criticized the board’s argument — so much so that he wanted a special committee to review the budget board and other legislative agencies. Email traffic between his office, the board and the House speaker’s office made it clear that a top Patrick aide had seen the board document in advance and approved sending it to Hegar.

The vetoes covered funding for projects at several state agencies and higher education institutions.

The largest funding item at issue was for $132 million from the Texas Facilities Commission’s budget to build a state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has previously urged the city of San Antonio to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto, noting that the new building is expected to play a key role in the revitalization of the city’s East Side area.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion. I’m not qualified to address the legal points of this, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the fix was in. I said before that this probably needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court, so I hope the city of San Antonio takes up TMF’s call to sue over this. Perhaps a better question to ask, especially of Republicans, is if it’s such a good idea to expand the Governor’s powers in this way. It’s certainly open to debate whether this is a good idea or not, but shouldn’t we at least have that debate? I’m just saying. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

Hegar punts LBB veto issue to Paxton

Duck!

NO

Describing the debate as one that “goes to the heart of separation of powers within Texas government,” Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Wednesday that he will not authorize more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott as the comptroller waits for the attorney general to settle the issue.

“There are complex questions related to the governor’s vetoes, so I am seeking clarity and requesting guidance from the attorney general’s Office,” Hegar said in a statement.

[…]

For several weeks, the issue was awaiting a decision by Hegar, the state’s chief financial officer. The governor’s office strongly disagreed with the budget board, sending a 29-page memo to Hegar decrying the Legislature’s attempt to use “magic words” to block the governor’s authority.

On Wednesday, Hegar said he would not dole out the funds at issue for the time being.

“I am lapsing the funds for all items objected to by the Governor and will treat the items in question as vetoed,” Hegar said. “However, if advised otherwise, those appropriations can be made available immediately.”

[…]

Hegar’s decision comes less than a week before the start of the fiscal year on Sept 1, when the budget approved by lawmakers this year goes into effect. His 15-page request to Paxton demonstrates the complexity of the dispute. Because Abbott’s vetoes targeted budget riders rather than appropriations, Hegar seeks clarity on not only the validity of the vetoes but also what to do about the impacted agencies’ budgets if the vetoes are upheld. Should Hegar reduce each agency’s budget by the vetoed amount? And if those agencies can still get the funding, can those agencies then choose to spend some of their budgets on the projects Abbott vetoed anyway?

“This is a constitutional issue that goes to the heart of separation of powers within Texas government,” Hegar said. “I have a fiduciary duty to Texas taxpayers to ensure their hard earned dollars are spent in a manner that is consistent with the constitution of the state of Texas.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion request. Putting aside my lack of confidence in Ken Paxton, I kind of think this one needs to be settled by the Supreme Court. The Lege can then take a crack at clarifying what the Constitution says if it wants. We’ll see how it goes.

Still reviewing the video on the line item vetoes

Any day now.

NO

With varying degrees of concern, a smattering of government offices and higher education institutions around the state are waiting to learn the fate of more than $200 million in funds that the governor might — or might not — have excised from the state budget.

The Legislative Budget Board is challenging several of Gov. Greg Abbott’s line-item vetoes, arguing in a July 21 letter to Comptroller Glenn Hegar the governor has no authority to veto some of the items because they were included in budget riders. The challenged vetoes include funds for public projects and money for research at colleges and universities.

“The Comptroller’s Office is reviewing the documents provided and working to determine next steps,” spokeswoman Lauren Willis said Thursday.

Abbott is pushing back against the challenge, even encouraging potential political donors to help.

“Unelected bureaucrats want to strip Governor Abbott of his line-item veto authority in order to grow government and increase spending and debt. Join our fight with a contribution!” his campaign wrote in an email Wednesday that linked to his donation page.

Abbott has repeatedly boasted he cut off $386,000 meant for the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit that helps states develop education policies, that would have been used “to finance the promotion of Common Core,” a charge the Board has denied.

The largest item vetoed would have provided $132 million to build a new state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex.

“The renovation project was intended to play a major role in the revitalization of the East Side and would have been an enormous boon to the City of San Antonio,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, wrote in an email to the San Antonio mayor and city council last week. “I find Governor Abbott’s unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional actions deeply worrisome.”

Martinez Fischer encouraged the city to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto if necessary.

See here for the background. It’s hilarious to see Abbott fight this by appealing to donors decrying his battle against “unelected” enemies – you know, like Joe Straus and Dan Patrick, who has been his typically weaselly self in all this – but that’s your modern Republican Party for you. In the end, the amount of money involved is a pittance, though the project in San Antonio sounds like a fairly big deal, but the spectacle is what it’s all about. It’s just a matter of posturing and trying to be the most macho, as that’s what they care about the most. See this Trib story and Burkablog for more.

Vetoes: You’re doing it wrong

Oops.

NO

Some of Gov. Greg Abbott’s line-item vetoes in the state budget might be invalid, the state’s Legislative Budget Board said in a 14-page letter sent Tuesday to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

The director of the LBB said the governor’s veto proclamation, listing line items he chose to excise from the new budget, doesn’t have the effect Abbott apparently intended.

“The Proclamation from June 20, 2015 seeks to veto the appropriation for a number of purposes and programs contained in House Bill 1,” LBB Director Ursula Parks wrote. “However, in nearly all instances the Proclamation does not veto the actual appropriation but rather seeks either to veto non-appropriating rider language or informational items. As it is the case that the Governor may only veto items of appropriation, for the reasons outlined below I believe that many of the items in HB 1 referenced in the Proclamation remain valid provisions.”

That letter amounts to a rebuke of sorts from the leaders of the Legislature to the new governor. The LBB is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget, along with six other legislative leaders from both chambers.

“In our analysis, most of the actions in the Proclamation have the effect neither of actually reducing agency or institution appropriations, nor indeed of eliminating legislative direction on the use of funds,” Parks wrote. “The Proclamation seeks to go beyond what is authorized in the Texas Constitution, is in many respects unprecedented, and is contrary to both practice and expectation since adoption of the Texas Constitution in 1876.”

Abbott’s office received the letter Tuesday afternoon and did not have an immediate comment, but argued in a memo last month that the governor’s vetoes were within the law. Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for Hegar, said the comptroller’s office is still reviewing the LBB letter.

It says, in effect, that the governor vetoed items in the budget that he doesn’t have the power to veto, an assertion Parks sourced back to Abbott himself. In his proposed budget earlier this year, Abbott said that he wanted to expand the governor’s line-item veto authority and suggested amending the state constitution to take care of that. The Legislature made no such amendment.

“The implication in this statement supports the analysis that the Constitution currently provides limited and specific authority in this area; authority that the Proclamation seeks to extend,” Parks wrote.

The LBB letter is here, and the Abbott memo on which it was based is here. Nothing like having your own words used against you, is there? This isn’t a LePage level of failure, but it would be pretty embarrassing if it holds up. On the plus side for Abbott, his buddy Dan Patrick is there for him, even though he is also on the LBB. Intrigue! Ross Ramsay has more.

Perry will veto Integrity Unit funds unless Lehmberg resigns

This could be checkmate for Rosemary Lehmberg.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Gov. Rick Perry will veto financing for the public integrity unit — the state’s ethics enforcement division — unless embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigns, an official close to the governor said Tuesday.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Monday night that Perry would use a line-item veto to cut funding for the unit unless Lehmberg, who was convicted and served jail time for drunken driven this past spring, steps down.

So far, Lehmberg has declined to do that, and Democrats are concerned that if she does, Perry would be able to choose her replacement.

“Ultimately this is Rosemary’s decision,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “If she decides to resign, I will work with the governor’s office to make sure that whoever is appointed to that position is someone who represents Travis County appropriately.”

The deadline to veto bills, including line items in the state budget, is this weekend. Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the governor’s office is “going through the budget line by line, and the governor has deep concerns over the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit.”

The Statesman story is behind their new paywall, which unlike the Dallas Morning News doesn’t appear to be subverted via a Google News search. I’ve been of the opinion that Lehmberg’s crime doesn’t necessitate resignation, but unless there’s something else to this Perry has the trump card. It would be better for Lehmberg to resign and a new DA to be elected next year than for her to risk the funding of the Public Integrity Unit. If Sen. Watson can work with Perry’s office to name a replacement – I’ve said before that allowing Travis County Commissioners Court to nominate a replacement would be a good idea – then so much the better. It would be unfortunate for Lehmberg if it comes to this, but the office is bigger than she is. Texas Politics, Juanita, and Texpatriate have more.

We have a budget

Such as it is.

Budget negotiators met briefly this morning and voted 9-1 to adopt a conference committee report that cuts the state budget over the next biennium by $15 billion, or 8 percent. The total amount of funding from taxpayers, known as general funds, is $80.4 billion. The total expenditures for all funds, including federal money, is $172.3 billion.

Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, told reporters their respective chambers are expected to vote on the report as early as Saturday afternoon.

“We have covered the entire (2010-2011) biennial deficit and the budget is balanced for the next two years. And at the end of the day, that’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment considering the challenge we were in,” Ogden said.

I suppose a Hollywood accountant might call this a “balanced” budget, but between the delayed payments to school districts, the $4.8 billion hot check for Medicaid, the fantasizing about federal waivers and higher-than-projected property tax revenues, it’s a budget built on cotton candy and hallucinations. And that’s before we consider the cost of slashing $4 billion from public education, which was the best case scenario for that. What still hasn’t been done is to figure out how to spread that $4 billion in cuts out over all the school districts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said there’s a provision in the budget agreement that makes Foundation School Program payments to school districts contingent on the House and Senate agreeing on school finance.

“If there is not agreement … there’s no appropriations to the Foundation School Program. We’d have to come back in special session,” Ogden said.

Abby Rapoport has more on what the school finance options are at this point. I assume they’re strongly motivated to avoid having to go into a special session. But even if they do, there’s still the question of whether or not the Comptroller will certify the budget. Rep. Garnet Coleman has some questions for Comptroller Combs:

1. Will you evaluate the combined revenue and expenses of all major pieces of legislation regarding the state’s fiscal matters, not just the primary budget bill (House Bill 1), in determining whether or not Texas has passed a balanced budget?

The Legislature is deliberating numerous “fiscal matters” bills that have consequences on our state’s finances for FY 2012-13. In 2003, the last time Texas faced a massive budget shortfall, Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn determined that the budget was a “’patchwork’ piece of legislation that depends on several other bills to determine some of the spending” for the FY 2004-2005 budget. (Source: Associated Press, “Strayhorn criticizes lawmakers for ‘smoke and mirrors’ budget,” June 5, 2003).

Which, if any, bills other than House Bill 1 do you anticipate your office evaluating in order to determine whether or not you will certify the Texas budget?

2. Will you certify $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses if they are not paid for with revenue Texas can identify in its budget?

Wayne Pulver, an assistant director at the Legislative Budget Board, stated before the Texas House Committee on Appropriations on Monday, May 16 that, “it is our estimate that with these funding decisions, the bill is short $4.8 billion in general revenue.” (Source: Associated Press, “Texas budget plan kicks Medicaid funding problem down the road,” May 21, 2011.) It is your intention to certify the Texas budget as balanced, even if we are budgeting to pay for something we do not have the money to pay for?

3. If you cannot certify the $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses, will you send the budget back to the House in which it originated to ensure Texas passes a balanced budget?

In 2003, Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn refused to certify the state’s budget because it spent $186.9 million more in the FY 2004-2005 biennium than the state could count as available revenue. Governor Rick Perry, under a special provision inserted by budget writers, was able to use line-item veto authority to cut expenditures in the budget by $186.9 million. Comptroller Strayhorn was then able to certify the budget.

However, the current $4.8 billion shortfall in Medicaid expenses is over twenty-five times the size of the 2003 budget shortfall Comptroller Strayhorn originally did not certify. It is my request that, provided you do not certify the $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses that remain unaccounted for in any legislation being considered by the Texas Legislature, you do not send the budget to the Governor to balance the budget.

It is our duty, as legislators, to pass a balanced budget. Should you determine that the budget is not balanced, I would request that you send it back to the House in which the budget originated, as prescribed by Article 3, Section 49a(b) of the Texas Constitution.

You can read Rep. Coleman’s full letter to Comptroller Combs here. A statement from the CPPP is here, and a statement from Rep. Mike Villarreal is here. Trailblazers and EoW have more.

Fight over family planning funds coming

It’s a small piece of the difference between the House and Senate budgets, but it will surely be a big part of the fight over how the two are reconciled.

The Senate budget approved by the Finance Committee would spend $11 billion more than the House version, and members of the upper chamber seem unwilling to leave family planning drastically underfunded. The Senate is expected to vote on a final version of the bill this week and clear up the details.

The money that the House slashed helps needy women get physical exams, birth control pills and tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as other health disorders.

Republican Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville , an open opponent of abortion and a practicing physician, sees the wisdom in finding money for low-income women who need the services. “These programs prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevent abortions by allowing women to plan their pregnancies,” he said. “I would dare say (the Senate) is willing to put more into family planning.”

[…]

In a show of power, the House’s Republican supermajority used a series of amendments to strip the budget of more than $60 million in family planning services and shift it to other programs for poor and disabled children. Some of the money was moved into anti-abortion-rights programs and crisis pregnancy centers.

The conservatives were relentless in their efforts, which some see as part of a nationwide attack on Planned Parenthood, the most widely known family planning program. This larger conservative movement to defund Planned Parenthood, and groups like it, is intended to reduce access to abortion nationwide.

Houston Rep. Jessica Farrar , leader of the House Democrats, said the fight is about ideology, not fiscal prudence. “It’s not about policy; it’s not about women’s health — everything is about abortion for them,” she said.

Farrar and others say that gutting services that help women and children stay healthy and avoid unintended pregnancies will yield skyrocketing long-term Medicaid costs. Women who can’t get birth control are more likely to stay trapped in poverty at the cost of the taxpayer, family planning advocates contend.

There’s no question that Rep. Farrar is right. The question is which side will blink first. There’s a middle ground between spending X dollars and spending Y dollars. There isn’t between believing something is good and believing it’s evil. The anti-family planning zealots do have an ace in the hole, and that’s Rick Perry’s line item veto power. They can give if they need to and still win.

The stimulus and the budget

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, who is the chair of the ad hoc committee that is charged with disbursing federal stimulus funds, gave an update on their proceedings. Among other things, the federal money may free up some state revenues.

Normally, the federal government pays about 60 percent of Texas’ Medicaid expenses, a contribution known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). Under the stimulus law, the federal government would pay around 66 percent of the expenses, which would, according to Health and Human Services commissioner Albert Hawkins, free up about $4.6 billion in general revenue. Some of it would go to make up for the Medicaid shortfall, but the rest would be free to be appropriated.

The stimulus law says a state is not eligible for in increase in its FMAP funding if any of the increase ends up, directly or indirectly, in a state’s reserves or rainy day fund.

“There’s a question as to what that means,” Dunnam said. He said the committee did not yet know whether maintaining the rainy day fund at its current level would result in the feds revoking the FMAP funds. At the beginning of the session, comptroller Susan Combs reported the state had a $9.1 billion budget shortfall, and it seemed to make ends meet, legislators would have to dip into the state’s reserves.

“It was very, very clear that if not for the stimulus money that we were going into the rainy day fund,” Dunnam said.

The committee hasn’t discussed what to do with the freed general revenue, but it seems like Dunnam would be in favor of spending it. He said the stimulus funds were intended to stimulate the economy. If Texas were to use federal funds where state funds are usually spent, and keep state funds, then, he said, “you haven’t complied with the intent of the act.”

I feel confident there will be some pushback on that, mostly from Governor Perry. Which is why the more that he can be reduced in influence, the better. I hope that the end result of all this is a realization that we do have more money in the budget than we first thought, and should re-evaluate our assumptions about how we appropriate accordingly. If that means it takes a little longer than usual to bring HB1 to the floor, then so be it. Better to get it right than to rush.