Five days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to open a special session, it is clear the relationship between the leaders of the House and Senate remains as strained as it was at the end of the regular session.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a press conference to blast fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus, comparing his education funding proposals to a “Ponzi scheme,” accusing him of laying the groundwork for a state income tax, and complaining that Straus won’t even meet with him one-on-one to bridge their differences.
Those comments come almost exactly one month after Straus used a speech in San Antonio to demand the state’s school finance system be added to the special session call and took issue with the Senate’s focus on transgender bathroom issues. And earlier this year Straus had compared the Senate’s budget writing to Enron accounting methods.
Patrick said his news conference on Thursday was to roll out new education proposals, including a bonus system for teachers. But much of the focus of the first 10 minutes was on his counterpart in the House and his continued call to have public school finance added to the special session call.
Patrick said Straus’ was using education funding as “dangerous political stunt” and accused him of having no plan to pay for the billions of additional funding Straus has said the state should be committing to schools.
“Where does that money come from? The only way to do it is a state income tax,” Patrick told reporters.
Later Patrick was even more direct.
“I will not join the Speaker and lay the groundwork for a state income tax,” Patrick said.
“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus responded in a prepared statement.
“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said.
“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”
The bathroom proposal would keep transgender people from using multi-occupancy restrooms of the gender with which they identify in government buildings, or at least in public schools.
Straus, along with advocates for transgender people and business groups, has voiced concern about the possible economic effect of boycotts because the bill is viewed as discriminatory. He also has expressed a worry that it could hurt transgender people.
“I see no good reason to promote a divisive bathroom bill when it does nothing but harm to the economy, and some very vulnerable people could be harmed,” Straus said.
Straus, who has been a thorn in the side of Abbott and Patrick on red-meat issues, said he considered it “actually encouraging” that Patrick was talking about school finance. Straus has said that issue is more worthy of attention than most of those on the special-session agenda.
On Friday, when Abbott was showcasing his record as he announced for re-election in San Antonio, Straus made his point about the need to focus on core issues by citing CNBC’s annual ranking of America’s Top States for Business. In it, Texas fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The No. 1 state was Washington. Its governor and both senators are Democrats.
“While No. 4 is not a terrible place to be, I don’t like the direction. And I think that our Texas political leadership ought to be focused on making Texas No. 1 and reverse that slide,” Straus said.
They’re putting the “special” in “special session”, that’s for sure. The Observer has more.