Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 3rd, 2016:

Interview with Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison is an old friend. He’s the first candidate I ever interviewed, on an old-fashioned tape recorder way back in 2003 as he was gearing up to challenge then-Rep. Tom DeLay in CD22. He fell short in that effort, but he gained a lot of respect and wound up on a path that led to him being elected to Commissioner’s Court in 2008. (Fun fact: Thanks to Morrison’s election, Fort Bend’s Commissioners Court has two Democrats on it, one more than Harris County’s does.) He’s thrived in a Republican-leaning precinct, and faces another challenging election this November with his usual combination of optimism, accomplishment, and strong grasp of the issues. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Hey, here’s an idea: Increase funding for public education

That’s just crazy talk.

Texas House budget and public education leaders said Wednesday that the best way to overhaul the state’s school finance system is to increase the base amount of money it gives to each district per student.

While costly, boosting the “basic allotment” — currently $5,140 per student — would help ease systemic funding inequities among the state’s 1,200 school districts and reduce the growing number of wealthier districts that are required to send money to the state to help buoy poorer ones, according to state Reps. John Otto of Dayton and Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen. The two Republicans, who are both retiring before the 2017 legislative session, chair the House Appropriations and Public Education committees, respectively.

The panels are meeting jointly Wednesday and Thursday to hear from various experts, organizations and the public on how to fix key provisions of the state’s complex, patchwork method of funding public schools. The assignment came from House Speaker Joe Straus in early June, weeks after a momentous Texas Supreme Court decision that upheld the system as minimally constitutional while also deeming it “undeniably imperfect” and urging lawmakers to make improvements.

Otto and Aycock added that the benefits of increasing the basic allotment could go beyond reducing the number of districts that must make “recapture” payments under the state’s Robin Hood plan.

They said the move could also lower the amount of money the state is required to send to a small share of school districts every year since the state forced them to cut property taxes. (Long-held opposition to the Robin Hood plan has gained some momentum recently with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, facing its first recapture payment.)

[…]

Rising property values have saved the state about $14 billion over the past decade, Otto told the panels Wednesday, citing calculations from the Legislative Budget Board. Local revenue has made up an increasing share of public education spending during that time.

“Essentially the burden is shifting to the locals, and the state is benefiting from that,” Otto said.

If the state were investing more, school property tax rates would be much lower, officials from state agencies and schools said Wednesday.

Nicole Conley, chief financial officer for Austin schools, told the panels the district would be able to slash its tax rate by 35 cents per $100 valuation if it didn’t have to pay recapture. That would save the average Austin homeowner $1,400 annually, she said, urging a “complete overhaul” of the system while acknowledging that is unlikely.

“I do think that a complete overhaul will be something that is going to require a substantial investment from the state; I’m not quite sure about your temperament and readiness to get there,” she said, adding that lawmakers have become “over-reliant” on recapture.

She suggested capping the number of districts required to pay recapture and providing transportation funding to those that still have to, which the state doesn’t currently do.

It’s nice to see these things discussed, but don’t get your hopes up. Both Reps. Aycock and Otto are retiring, and even if they were coming back there’s no way that any legislation to address public ed funding or school finance in this way would make it through Dan Patrick’s Senate. I’m glad that the concerns of school disitricts (not just HISD) that are being affected by recapture are being heard, but it doesn’t make the strategy of voting down that HISD referendum this fall any less chancy. The Chron has more.

First contenders line up for HD46

There will be more.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The race to replace longtime Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes got underway hours after her Monday morning announcement that she will resign effective Jan. 10.

First out of the gate was former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who issued a statement saying she is “seriously considering running.”

Joe Deshotel, son of state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said it is more likely than not that he will join the race.

Travis County Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Harding said he will also consider running, once the Nov. 8 election is over.

Several others are considering running but haven’t made public statements about the race.

[…]

Cole, an attorney, was the first African-American woman elected to the Austin City Council, serving from 2006 to 2015 before losing a bid for mayor in 2014.

“I would be grateful for the community’s support in this endeavor and I hope I am honored to serve this district,” she said. “I certainly want to thank Dawnna for her service.”

Deshotel, who is director of community engagement for RideAustin, said he is “most definitely, very, very strongly considering” a run.

“Truthfully, I’m hoping other people get in the race,” Deshotel said. “I don’t think a 20-year seat should be someone walking in without a challenger.”

Harding said he is focused on ensuring Democrats, including Dukes, win on Nov. 8 and will evaluate whether he should run after the election.

See here for the background. I feel confident saying we will hear from more people, most likely after the November election when we’ll be able to focus on anything after that. I can add that Joe Deshotel has been a contributor to the Burnt Orange Report; you can see all his writing on that site here. In the meantime, I think Harding has the right idea about this one. There will be plenty of time to focus on this election after we do what we need to do for the November election.

Endorsement watch: Three State House races

Possibly the only State Rep race endorsements we’ll get, depending on how much the Chron cares about the less-competitive races.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

House District 23: Lloyd Criss

We endorse Lloyd Criss, a Democrat whom Texas Monthly rated as an outstanding freshman legislator back in 1979, the first of his six terms in office. Now the legislative expert wants to jump back into the game to fight for public education and a better funding mechanism for community colleges. Criss, 75, also says that he will hold the line on windstorm insurance. [Rep. Wayne] Faircloth did not meet for an endorsement interview.

House District 134: Sarah Davis

Davis, 40, told the editorial board that Texas is a deep-red state, and she insists on pushing an agenda that exists within the realm of the politically possible.

There’s a list of do-or-die issues that Houston needs to pass through the Legislature this upcoming session, such as pension reform and saving the Houston Independent School District from a broken funding system. Davis has the policy chops, seniority and close relationship with Speaker Joe Straus to push those changes through.

Our decision to endorse Davis is difficult. Democratic challenger, Ben Rose, has the makings of an excellent representative.

House District 144: Mary Ann Perez

This is an easy one. Mary Ann Perez, 54, lost her first reelection race two years ago after running a lackluster campaign against perennial candidate Gilbert Peña. Voters should put the former Houston Community College trustee back in her seat representing this heavily Hispanic district that stretches from Pasadena across the Houston Ship Channel to Baytown.

I expect Perez to win her seat back from the unserious and under-funded incumbent Rep. Gilbert Pena. HD144 was Democratic by about five points in 2012, and I expect it to be bluer this year. Rep. Davis will probably win, and Lloyd Criss (father of 2014 candidate Susan Criss) will probably lose, though the Trump effect makes both of those outcomes at least somewhat uncertain.

Side note: How close does Trump’s margin have to be for people to not call Texas some variation of “deep red” after this election? My guess is that this election will be seen as an outlier unless Trump manages to climb into double-digit territory, though I believe at least some doubt will creep into the narrative if Clinton comes within, say, six points. As such, I doubt the adjectives will change even in the event of a really close spread. I think it will require another atypical result in 2018 for people to stop defaulting to “[intensity modifier] red” as the state’s political description. What do you think?