As expected, the Senate approved its budget today. What was not expected was the fireworks that accompanied it.
Attacking from the right, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he's concerned that state budgets keep growing but Texas keeps trailing in rankings including health care for poor children and services to the elderly. He said he wants money to be spent more efficiently and said he had come up with $3 billion in possible cuts, saying he was concerned for middle-class taxpayers footing the bill for services.
"I'm looking out for the middle class, hard-working Texans," he said. "I am concerned about children not getting health care. I am concerned about our elderly. I am concerned about those in need in our society. How is it that we continue to spend more and more money, but still were 45th, 48th in every category in these services?"
Patrick continued his push for a blue-ribbon task force to examine spending in the interim. [Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve] Ogden said that's what lawmakers do.
"Your Finance Commitee has done a pretty doggone good job," Ogden said. "It's our job to do this."
The vote came only after a flareup triggered when Patrick lashed out after Gallegos suggested school property tax cuts are just for the rich. Patrick said, "The property tax cuts, Sen. Gallegos, are going to hard-working families and they're not all rich."
That prompted Sens. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, to speak. There was a particularly harsh exchange between Patrick and Whitmire, who challenged the Republican to detail his budget cuts and suggested Patrick wasn't serious about them. That's because Patrick planned to present copies to the media but had not given them to senators.
Whitmire, referring to Gallegos as his best friend, told Patrick not to lecture his fellow senators.
"I don't have to be lectured by you," Patrick said.
Whitmire retorted, "You can dish it out but you can't take it, is that it?"
How irresponsible is it to claim you have found $3 billion in savings in the state's budget -- and yet not have shared this important information with anyone on the Finance Committee? But there was Patrick, waiving his list of "savings" on the Senate floor while shouting out names and numbers, looking very much like Joe McCarthy waiving a list of known Communists. Did Patrick ever stop to say why a certain program was unworthy of state expenditures? Had he investigated whether it pulled down any federal matching dollars? All of these questions went unanswered because, as John Whitmire pointed out during his tongue-lashing of Patrick, if Patrick had been serious about making the cuts, he would have vetted them through the committee. There, state agencies can be summoned to explain how the dollars are spent. And if they couldn't justify the expenditure, the Finance Committee would have happily transferred the funds to more pressing state needs. Perhaps the funniest part of the Patrick-Whitmire exchange came when Patrick promised to share his list of "savings" with the press. "The press? The press doesn't have a vote!" Whitmire yelled. "This member of the press does!" came Patrick's inane reply. The guy completely missed the point: if he wants to get something done, he should be negotiating with his fellow senators, not grandstanding for the press or practicing for his radio broadcast.