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More special session talk

Yellow Dog Blog, quoting from Capitol Inside, and Alan D. Williams, citing this Morning News story, think Governor Perry might call another special session in July where it will overlap the Democratic national convention. That would screw a number of state legislators who are also convention delegates.

A full 30-day session called as early as next week would run into the Democrats’ convention July 26-29.

“The governor feels that political conventions are a pretty important part of the electoral process in this country. However, I don’t think the governor is going to let a political convention get in the way of a special session if one is ready to be called,” spokesman Robert Black said.

“Obviously, he believes Texas comes first,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. Perry has said that the deadline for a plan is Aug. 25, the last day for adopting a constitutional amendment for voter consideration in November on changes to the state’s tax system or allowing gambling.

“At the end of August, it turns into a pumpkin,” he said. Beyond August, lawmakers would wait until the regular session in January to tackle the problem.

If the governor waited until after the convention to call a session, lawmakers would have just 23 days to complete the work.

More than 30 Democratic lawmakers have long-standing plans to attend the convention, including 29 who have been elected state delegates.

“I think there’d be considerable disappointment and resentment,” said Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who has served on key House education committees. He also is a Texas delegate to the national convention.

“I can’t shirk my legislative responsibilities or my duties to millions of kids. I’d have to stay in Austin,” he said.

Mr. Oliveira said that going to Boston is not just a matter of balloon drops and receptions. He is planning on joining other Hispanic officials working on a list of national policy priorities for presumptive nominee John Kerry.

The governor “has been to Italy, the Bahamas, Mexico, wherever. I would think there would be mutual respect recognized here,” Mr. Oliveira said.

House Business and Industry Chairwoman Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, also is a delegate and said she would be surprised if the governor called a session during the national convention.

“I don’t think it would be well received, and it would be problematic at a time when we would need to cooperate and work together if we’re going to make something happen,” she said.

For what it’s worth, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst thinks Perry will wait until August.

“I see August as a more realistic date … than July to work out the details between the two chambers,” Dewhurst said Friday after speaking at the 59th annual meeting of the 13,000-member Texas Public Employees Association.

Gubernatorial spokesman Robert Black said the governor has not decided on a date for a special session. He said Perry “will call the second special session when be believes that the leadership of the House and Senate reach an agreement” on how the state’s public school system will be financed.

Perry has hinted he might call the session in August. This week Perry said a replacement of the current Robin Hood school finance system would have to be passed by the end of August for the constitutional amendment that the new measure would require to be placed on the November ballot.

Under Robin Hood, property-wealthy school districts are required to share their tax dollars with property-poor districts.

Since the first special session ended in failure, joint working groups of Senate and House members have been meeting for more than a month trying to reach an agreement on a proposal that would be acceptable to both chambers.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee said Friday that he believes “progress is being made” in narrowing House and Senate differences.

But he acknowledged the task becomes “more difficult” when group members are uncertain what portions of a proposed bill might be acceptable to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

“It is one of the large … unanswered questions, what it is the speaker wants” in the bill, Ogden said. “Not knowing that makes it harder” for the working groups to reach accord without a clear indication of what elements of the bill Craddick would favor.

Ogden and Dewhurst said they were sympathetic to the state worker’s legislative priority, an across-the-board pay raise. But they said they were unsure how much would remain in the 2005-06 biennial budget that could be allocated to employee pay raises, and they said state worker pay raises should be tied to increased productivity.

This is the first time I can recall someone other than Perry claiming progress on school finance issues, though note that Sen. Ogden did not specify where progress was being made. I continue to believe that the previously unreconciled issues like increased gambling and the business activity tax are no closer to a settlement than before. It is possible that the cited progress is on issues where the differences were less entrenched, like expanding the sales tax. We’ll see. Note also that no one is yet certain where Speaker Craddick, who wants to wait until the lawsuits have been decided, will come down on anything.

Again, for what it’s worth, I lean slightly towards the August time frame. As tempting as it must be for Perry to want to extract payback for the Ardmore exodus, I’d think he’s got to realize that he’ll really get reamed if another session, especially one that could be characterized as being called prematurely for partisan purposes, fails as abjectly as the last one did. But you never know, and I’m the last person to credit him with extra smarts. So stay tuned.

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