Today's SDEC meeting in Austin *update: Richie won't run again
Breaking, 1:00 p.m.: Boyd Richie has announced that will not run for re-election to the post of chair of the Texas Democratic Party in 2012. Burnt Orange Report is live-blogging the conclave.
Occurring as this is posted. The following was submitted by my Senate District Executive Committee representative, J.R. Behrman.
The April 9 meeting will pit the SDEC against the staff employed by the Texas Trust from the staff of Congressman Martin Frost -- the “Little Office” in Austin. That staff is desperately seeking to defeat motions to be made by Don Bankston of Fort Bend County to support a bizarre theory of “singular authority” vested in the Texas Democratic Party chairman, and to re-elect Boyd Richie for State Chair despite his manifest unfitness and failure.
He had not planned to run in 2012. But, he and his entourage of “Senate Pages” have nobody but each other to turn to. We really cannot afford either half of that vain and unproductive symbiosis.
The staff and the “Palace Guard” -- together comprising the “Speaker’s Claque” -- are already “whipping” the SDEC, defaming Don Bankston, and threatening personal retaliation against each and every one of you. That is the way they operate. Since I am already on the hit list, I don’t care about the smear campaign so much as by what it reveals about a profoundly dysfunctional and failed state party.
The Obama campaign will bypass state parties altogether. They will use the new DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, passed over for the DCCC, to raise money in Texas and spend it elsewhere. We desperately need a new business model at the state and county level, but there is not a hint of such a thing from the Little Office in Austin.
In any case the state party establishment, which bet on John Edwards this time four years ago and Martin Frost to become DNC chair in recent weeks as well as de facto state chair through his protege, Matt Angle, will fare even worse in fratricidal fund-raising from “large donors” in the future.
That leaves the state and county party fighting over the last rich, bored trial-lawyer standing – a horrible business model, but the only one we have today.
Our party does not have personnel problems unless we create them, which we now have by not disclosing material conflicts of interest. Still, that just aggravates the profound financial problems that will not be solved by “keeping on, keeping on” with old or new staff.
Given the size of this state, our lack and ignorance of the scalable technologies that the Obama campaign will use nationwide, and the profound dysfunction of the state and several urban county parties, it is hard to blame the boys in Chicago. They have little regard for cornpone Southern Democratic parties run by “doctors, lawyers, and preachers” for their own benefit, what I call “The Grisham Novel”.
Democrats in Northern states, with real unions and well-funded public schools and services, are fighting against a neo-Confederate GOP. They do not have much use for a state party that nurtures “Blue Dog” collaborators and defectors. So ... we are on our own here.
The Democratic Party establishment in Texas and Harris County are artifacts of a bi-partisan concession-tending regime that lasted statewide from 1824 to 1994 and persists on City Council to this day. This establishment lacks proficiency and purpose – now that tort reform is a done deal and they have no alternative to debt-driven fiscal austerity at every echelon of government.
So the prospects for winning statewide, countywide, and even citywide elections in 2011-12 are not good. There have been essentially no lessons learned from victories in 2008 or losses in 2010. “Wave Election!” is an excuse, not an analysis or a plan. The same consultants will be doing the same thing with the same tools but without the benefit of an Obama primary campaign here in Texas next year.
Apart from dismay at the effects of national, state, county, and city austerity, there will be little motivation and no money trickling down from national politics unless and until we turn things around here on the ground ... dramatically. The patronage-oriented base vote will be no better than 2010 and the (2008-vintage) “new base vote” will be hard to motivate, locate, or mobilize. It is true that on the margin there is still some 'bloc voting' by various interest groups. But that is not the way the politics of age, ethnicity, class, and gender work in “majority-minority” counties like Harris, for one. So we are going to have to adopt Obama-type political methods and messages if we expect results like 2008.
And if we should overcome our perverse heritage and technical deficiencies, as well as the dead hand of the TDP, DNC, and DCCC, we could join California -- even Illinois -- in re-electing Barack Obama, in re-electing those elected county-wide in 2008, and in electing future national and statewide office-holders.
Which brings me back to today.
The State Chair and the party staff will try to waste time and suppress debate on virtually everything using parliamentary tactics or just jargon and making utterly bogus legal-sounding arguments. My district includes parts of Fort Bend County, and you can bet I will support Don Bankston, less for what he has done -- avoiding Bexar County-type problems, for one -- than for what he and others in the county are doing.
The Speaker’s Claque and our Local Chapter of the DCCC use the term “conversation” to indicate that they will engage grass-roots Democrats as adversaries, not as the source of their own legitimacy and Blazing Saddles jobs. A one-sided “conversation” is what President Obama has with the truculent and juvenile GOP in Congress. It is not the way to handle internal party communications.
I hope SDEC members meeting in plenary session today can be relied upon to discharge their responsibilities to those who put them on the executive committee as their representatives, not as sycophants or suck-ups. We need wholesome and fair deliberation of a slew of important questions.
There are certainly two sides to the questions raised by Don Bankston. But there should be only one side to the question of their right and responsibility to fairly deliberate any important matter. SDEC members should vote to include serious matters -- not just long-winded harangues and busy-work reports-- in the order of business. I hope my colleagues will join me in voting, in particular, against attempts to suppress debate with parliamentary jargon.
But if the Chairman insists on turning a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair into a vote of no confidence backed by his threat to resign ... well, I can live with Lenora Sorola-Pohlman for the balance of this term.
It is hard to imagine a course of action less delusional and impractical than what the Little Office in Austin is doing today. They will whine about the “circular firing-squad”. But then they will volley-fire into the backsides of an SDEC which breaks and runs at the least prospect of serious debate.
Texas Democratic voters are looking for responsibility and leadership, not cowardice or sycophancy
This ought to be required reading by every state elected official -- state rep, senator, SCOTX justice, and especially the governor, lite guv, attorney general and all the rest.
Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, put a spotlight on the state’s grossly inequitable school funding system Friday night when he stood on the Senate floor and read a list of the highest and lowest school revenue amounts in each of Texas’ 31 senatorial districts.
Deuell’s record could be part of the opening statement in the next school funding lawsuit, which is likely lurking around the corner. The state’s Constitution requires lawmakers to provide a free and efficient system of public education.
The landmark Edgewood case from the 1980s produced Texas Supreme Court rulings that school districts must get substantially similar revenue for similar tax rates.
But lawmakers have allowed the system to deteriorate to the point where a child’s school funding largely hinges on the zip code of his or her parents’ home. It would be interesting to see how the state defends that as a rational system for funding public education.
Deuell noted that the top 100 best funded school districts have property tax rates of $1, while the lowest 100 school districts levy an average tax rate of $1.16.
The physician-senator read a list highlighting the lowest and highest revenue per student in each senatorial district.
Senate District 1 (Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler): Lowest, $3,926; Highest, $6,981; Disparity, $3,055 per student.
Senate District 2 (Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville): Lowest, $4,576; Highest, $6,261; Disparity, $1,694.
Senate District 3 (Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville): Lowest, $4,407; Highest, $7,367; Disparity, $2,960.
Senate District 4 (Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands): Lowest, $4,615; Highest, $7,064; Disparity, $2,449.
Senate District 5 (Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan): Lowest, $4,694; Highest, $8,646; Disparity, $3,952.
Senate District 6 (Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,668; Disparity, $778.
Senate District 7 (Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston): Lowest, $4,772; Highest, $6,024; Disparity, $1,252.
Senate District 8 (Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano): Lowest, $5,194; Highest, $7,418; Disparity, $2,224.
Senate District 9 (Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington): Lowest, $4,836; Highest, $5,706; Disparity, $870.
Senate District 10 (Sen. Wendy Davis,D-Ft.Worth): Lowest, $4,797; Highest, $6,880; Disparity, $2,083.
Senate District 11 (Sen. Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte): Lowest, $4,863; Highest, $5,984; Disparity, $1,121.
Senate District 12 (Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Lowest, $4,770; Highest, $7,050; Disparity, $2,280.
Senate District 13 (Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,292; Disparity, $402.
Senate District 14 (Sen. Kirk Watson, R-Austin): Lowest, $5,102; Highest, $6,282; Disparity, $1,180.
Senate District 15 (Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,887; Highest, $6,459; Disparity, $1,572.
Senate District 16 (Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas): Lowest, $4,780; Highest, $5,856; Disparity, $1,076.
Senate District 17 (Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place): Lowest, $4,804; Highest, $6,876; Disparity, $2,072.
Senate District 18 (Sen. Glenn Hagar, R-Katy): Lowest, $4,710; Highest, $7,935; Disparity, $3,225.
Senate District 19 (Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,831; Highest, $12,400; Disparity, $8,569.
Senate District 20 (Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen): Lowest, $4,678; Highest, $9,548; Disparity, $4,870.
Senate District 21 (Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Lowest, $3,732; Highest, $10,908; Disparity, $7,176.
Senate District 22 (Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury): Lowest, $4,118; Highest, $7,750; Disparity, $3,632.
Senate District 23 (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas): Lowest, $4,884; Highest, $5,430; Disparity, $546.
Senate District 24 (Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay): Lowest, $3,896; Highest, $6,864; Disparity, $2,968.
Senate District 25 (Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio): Lowest, $4,426; Highest, $6,109; Disparity, $1,683.
Senate District 26 (Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,759; Highest, $5,573; Disparity, $1,814.
Senate District 27 (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville): Lowest, $4,304; Highest, $7,321; Disparity, $3,017.
Senate District 28 (Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock): Lowest, $4,390; Highest, $12,979; Disparity, $8,589.
Senate District 29 (Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso): Lowest, $4,614; Highest, $5,083; Disparity, $469.
Senate District 30 (Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls): Lowest, $4,425; Highest, $7,488; Disparity, $3,063.
Senate District 31 (Sen. Kyle Seliger, R-Amarillo): Lowest, $4,432; Highest, $12,387; Disparity, $7,955.
A difference of $1,000 per student can pile up quickly. That kind of disparity amounts to at least $25,000 per classroom.
No one disputed or discounted Deuell’s case. But the prevailing attitude is: ”We’re doing the best we can do this session.”
It’s a theme also heard during the 2009 legislative session.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, complimented Deuell for doing “a beautiful job of pointing out what’s broken about school funding in the state of Texas and why it so desperately needs to be fixed.”
The disparity has increased dramatically since 2006 when lawmakers reduced school property taxes but didn’t raise enough revenue to pay for it. Most school districts now receive funding based on what they got five years ago instead of formulas. It’s called a “target revenue” system, which lawmakers want to fix. But they didn’t want to use any of the remaining $6 billion plus in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which again left them without funding to fix the broken system.
“To the life of me, I cannot understand why we would not use (the Rainy Day Fund) to help equalize this system,” Deuell told his colleagues.
Lawmakers have set a goal of replacing the target revenue system by 2017. But it will be hard to reach the goal without additional funding – and with a structural revenue deficit that experts peg at $5 billion per year.
That’s another problem lawmakers continue to ignore.
“State and local taxes are not being used efficiently,” Deuell complained. That’s an admission the system violates the Texas Constitution.
This has been going on a long, long, time. Let's go back in time to this 2000 column by Molly Ivins for the historical -- as in mid-'80's to mid-'90's -- perspective.
Everyone knew that something would have to be done about equalizing spending on the public schools, and everyone knew it would be a long, hard fight.
Gov. Mark White had the singularly bright idea to name Ross Perot to head a commission on reforming the schools. Perot understood one important thing: We would never get Texans to pay more for public schools unless we could guarantee them better schools and prove that we were getting them. Thus the system of testing and accountability was born.
Perot put together a package of reform bills that mandated smaller class sizes and expanded pre-kindergarten programs — the most crucial reforms. Bob Bullock, then the state comptroller, worked out a formula for how the state could more equalize spending between rich and poor districts.
White called a special session to do nothing but education reform, and it was a donnybrook. One of Perot's reforms was "no-pass, no-play" — if you weren't passing all your school subjects, you couldn't play football! It was a revolutionary notion in Texas.
Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby did heavy lifting for the reforms. Perot hired his own lobbyists to help pass the bills. It was a tremendous effort and a narrow win. Then the state went broke.
The oil crash of the mid-'80s left Texas in bad shape, so the equalization formula didn't advance much. The Edgewood case was still dragging on, and in 1987, Edgewood won at last.
In 1989, Gov. Bill Clements had to sign a huge tax increase to fund the agreement to equalize spending. Then came Son of Edgewood, with the courts again siding with the poor districts. Gov. Ann Richards proposed the Robin Hood plan, taking from rich districts to give to the poor. Another horrendous fight. A modified version of Robin Hood finally passed.
What the Rand story found was that despite all the screaming and yelling, what Texas did is what works: smaller class sizes, early childhood education (though we still don't have kindergarten statewide) and equalized spending.
And here we are back again. Repeating history.
Which teaches us that some collection of sensible, reasonable Republicans like Deuell is going to have join Democrats and straighten this mess out again.
I'm just not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen, though
(from PDiddie's blog)
AUSTIN — Educators, students and parents chanted "We're watching! We vote!" outside the Texas House chamber Saturday as legislative negotiators privately worked to complete a budget plan that will cut billions.
"It's an attack on children, period, from birth through college," said Michael Jones of Cypress, who works in an early childhood intervention program in Harris County.
Jones was part of the small but vocal group of about 50 that provided a counterpoint as lawmakers publicly worked their way through legislation and budget negotiators worked behind closed doors.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who walked through the protesters on a legislative errand to the House, said, "School districts have to do the same as individuals and businesses and tighten their belts."
Details were still being hammered out on the compromise between the House and Senate versions of a budget for the next two years, and on school finance and revenue bills that are required to fund it.
But lawmakers did agree to enough funding for programs, including TEXAS Grants, to allow new students to get financial aid, as envisioned by the Senate version of the budget
The barebones House version would have scotched the award of new TEXAS Grants, continuing them only to students already receiving them. The Senate version, according to an analysis, would have scaled back the program by 10 percent.
"A lot more students will be able to rely on financial aid to go to college. It's a plus for our students," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, one of the negotiators.
But like other budget pluses, it's relative to where the House budget started in the face of a shortfall estimated at $25 billion through the next two years.
Leaders have stood against new taxes and backed only limited use of the rainy day fund savings account.
The House initially backed a two-year state budget totaling $164.5 billion in state and federal funds, cutting $23 billion, or 12.3 percent, from current spending. The Senate's budget would spend $8.3 billion more, cutting spending by about 7.7 percent.
A bill approved by the House Saturday that provides extra revenue crucial to balancing the budget is estimated to make available about $3 billion more, with up to $2.3 billion of that due to slightly deferring a state payment to school districts.
The deferral makes more money available because it delays the last payment of the upcoming two-year fiscal period, which ends Aug. 31, 2013. Pushing it back to September 2013 puts it into the next budget, giving lawmakers the extra money to use earlier.
The revenue bill, which earlier won Senate approval but was revised in the House, is expected to be the subject of negotiations along with the budget.
On spending, negotiators earlier had broadly agreed to an approximately $1.3 billion state general revenue cut to higher education, which softened an earlier cut backed by the House. They now are looking at how to allocate the money.
They also agreed to a public education funding level that would cut back spending by $4 billion through the next two years compared with what schools would get under current formulas. That's about half the cut earlier backed by the House.
Exactly how that money will be allocated is still being determined by lawmakers. The Senate passed a school finance plan Friday night, but a different plan has developed in the House, which is expected to take up the issue Monday.
Under the Senate-passed school finance plan, Houston Independent School District would lose about $225 million over the next two years or a per-student cut of $428 next year and $490 the following year.
Houston ISD school board President Paula Harris doesn't like the plan. "Any school funding proposal that penalizes school districts such as HISD for being good stewards of our resources and keeping tax rates low is unfair to Houston taxpayers at a time when so many families and businesses are struggling to pay their bills," she said.
'A tipping point'
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD — the state's third-largest school district — would lose about $30.5 million next year under the Senate plan and $16.2 million the following year. The cuts amount to about $231 per student next year and $118 million for the 2012-13 school year.
"Cuts of this magnitude cannot be minimized for a district like CFISD that has already made $72 million in reductions over the past four years and decreased staffing in a growing district by 900 positions," Cy-Fair assistant superintendent Kelli Durham said.
"We have maintained 'recognized' status in the state's accountability system during these years, and we have been highlighted as one of the most efficient school systems in the nation. However, there is a tipping point and in all likelihood it may be reached if current proposed legislation is passed," Durham said.
She described Cy-Fair as "an informed community that understands that state officials will be making decisions in the next few days, which may have an irreversible affect on the future of children. "
Mental health services hit
In criminal justice, cuts include closing the Central Unit in Sugar Land for a savings of $25 million over the two-year budget period in operational costs. Inmates would be transferred to other facilities.
In health and human services, the proposed budget wouldn't cover $4.8 billion due to anticipated Medicaid caseload growth, meaning lawmakers would have to act quickly to fund the program when they return in regular session in 2013.
Community mental health services for adults would be cut 4 percent and for children by 2 percent. Community mental health crisis services wouldn't be cut from current spending levels. Community mental health funding is seen as crucial, including for people who may otherwise wind up in jail.
The Harris County Jail already is the largest public mental health facility in Texas, a situation advocates have called wrong and costly.
"It could have been much worse, but the situation was already horrible," said Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Alan Bernstein. "It's not just a financial concern. It's a moral concern."
Staff writer Gary Scharrer contributed to this report.
Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7575645.html#ixzz1N8Nogmxy
AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers adopted a state budget Saturday night that cuts billions from public schools, state universities and health care for the elderly, sending the measure to Gov. Rick Perry for final consideration.
Facing a massive revenue shortfall, lawmakers crafted the $172 billion budget by making cuts and using deferrals rather than raising taxes or dipping into the $10 billion reserve fund.
The budget loomed over a session that Sen. Steve Ogden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, called the most "challenging session that has faced our Legislature in the last 20 years."
Both the House and Senate took up the budget late Saturday night, almost simultaneously. The votes were largely along party lines.
In all funds, the plan for 2012-2013 is $15 billion less than the current budget, but that doesn't account for the costs of providing services to new population.
For public schools, the budget is at least $4 billion short of what districts would be owed for basic operations under current funding formulas. To accommodate the lower spending, the Legislature also is working on a companion measure that would change the formulas so the reduced funding levels are legal. That debate comes Sunday, the day before the Legislature adjourns.
The fight over school money prompted a futile outcry from teachers and parents, who rallied at the Capitol several times since the session started in January.
The budget also cuts money for full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher incentive grants, arts education and financial aid to college students.
"This budget betrays the people of the state of Texas," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat. "They failed in solving the problem and next session will be an even bigger problem."
The shortfall was a result of a business tax that has consistently failed to generate forecasted funds and a slump in sales tax receipts.
Some lawmakers, including Ogden, started the session with hopes that the business tax could be overhauled, so the shortfall wouldn't be continued in future years. But Perry and Republican leaders made it clear that any new tax bills would be unacceptable.
So they cut.
Over objections from Democrats, who wanted to use more money from the Rainy Day Fund, Republican leaders cut funding to colleges, nursing homes, highway maintenance, state parks and dozens of other state operations.
Medicaid reimbursements were underfunded by $4.8 billion, an expense Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said was charged to a "Medicaid Mastercard." He and other Democrats compared the move to deficit spending in Washington D.C. that Republicans often complain about.
"This budget is shaky at best," Turner said.
For nursing homes that rely on Medicaid for most of their business, state and federal aid would be cut 37 percent compared to funding levels in the 2010-2011 budget, according to an analysis prepared by the Legislative Study Group and the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
The analysis said the reduced Medicaid funding levels will "result in fewer workers at nursing homes and state facility centers, which will result in seniors developing more bed sores, struggling more to go to the bathroom, and generally living a life of much less dignity."
Lawmakers also agreed to cut family planning services by more than $73 million. The analysis said that cut means about 200,000 women won't receive services such as breast and cervical cancer screening, contraception or postpartum evaluations.
Democrats warned the cuts will result in tens of thousands of public school workers losing their jobs and prevent nearly 43,000 fewer poor students receiving financial aid for college.
"We have not asked business to tighten their belt," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, of San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democrats. "This budget is a sad example of politics overtaking common sense."
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who is considering a run for a U.S. Senate seat next year, was the only Republican to join Ogden in defending the budget during the debate, praising it as a plan that "lives within our means and does not raise taxes."
Prevention programs for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, also were cut as was funding to help children under three with developmental disabilities.
Rep. Jim Pitts, the Waxahachie Republican who led the House budget writing, said the budget funds critical needs while not going above the state's means.
"When we pass this budget, it will be the second session in a row we have cut state spending by more than a billion dollars," Pitts said. "That has never happened in this state's history."
Rep. Yvonne Davis, a Democrat from Dallas called the budget a "fiscal fiasco."
"Texas and Texans deserve better," she said. The budget "provides nothing but pain and we ought to be ashamed that we couldn't find better ways to get there."
Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7585876.html#ixzz1NhlXlet7
School finance bill may be passed in dead of night, without debate
The TexTrib provides the explanation:
The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate, and now, with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.
Without that legislation — SB 1811 — the budget doesn't balance and lawmakers will be forced to come back in a special session to deal with the issue. ...
If SB 1811 doesn't pass and the budget doesn't balance, lawmakers have to fix it before September 1, when the current budget ends and the new one is supposed to take effect. The budget, approved on Saturday along mostly partisan lines in both the House and the Senate, is $15.2 billion smaller than the current budget, doesn't require major new taxes and doesn't immediately require the state to use its Rainy Day Fund. Budget writers left $4.8 billion in Medicaid spending out of the budget in the hope that economic and program changes will make it unnecessary, but left money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover that spending if needed in 2013.
Without SB 1811, it doesn't balance.
At this time of this posting, Postcards is reporting that SB 1811 is scheduled to come before the House in about an hour, and the Senate some time after 9 p.m. Harvey Kronberg has the insight:
Should a school finance plan that was only revealed yesterday, has never had a hearing, has never had any questions asked about it or any public vetting be passed in the dead of night when members are exhausted? Do Republicans have any clearer understanding of what the bill does than do Democrats?
Sure, Democrats could chub the bill. Sure, Republicans could call the previous question.
But there is something larger at stake. This is the first school finance plan passed in modern times absent a court order. It could have profound consequences to real people. It could also end political careers. It deserves more than a ten minute question and answer period. ...
Republicans obviously have the cards to do whatever they want. If they want to pass a school finance plan under under those conditions and only ten minutes of questions, they also bear all the responsibility.
When those who went to the polls just seven months ago voted a straight Republican ticket, they created the atmosphere for this perfect storm. It's not hyperbole to say that what happened earlier this month in Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin, MO doesn't really hold a candle to the damage this budget will wreak on the lives of Texans. Yes, there will be hundred of lives lost as a result of the financial decisions the Republican super-majorities are making. The only real difference is that the carnage in Texas will be in slow motion, and the tornado-ravaged cities are already on the road to recovery.
Texas won't recover for a generation. Or longer.
Posted by PDiddie
Update: Gov. Rick Perry says if Democrats don’t vote for critical bills he supports, they may not like what a special session looks like. Perry told reporters at a press conference Monday morning that the governor gets to decide what issues come up during a special session, according to the AP. And the rules of a special session won’t allow the Democratic minority to block bills they oppose, such as tougher immigration laws.
• • •
AUSTIN — A Democratic senator from Fort Worth launched a filibuster late Sunday that temporarily killed a measure intended to cut public education by $4 billion, including more than $645 million from Houston-area schools.
Gov. Rick Perry, however, said he would call state lawmakers back into a special session on Tuesday - one day after the regular session ends.
"This puts the budget in crisis," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.
Nearly all Democrats and some Republican lawmakers object to cutting public education, especially with more than $6 billion sitting in the state's rainy day fund.
"Funding schools at $4 billion less will mean for the first time ever in the history of funding public schools that we are not going to fund student population growth," Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said during her lengthy speech. "We are failing our schoolchildren by adopting this plan."
Texas expects about 185,000 additional students in the next two years.
Earlier Sunday evening, the House approved the plan by a vote of 84-63. No Democrat supported the plan; 16 Republicans voted against it.
All bills needed to pass before midnight Sunday, the eve of the session's end.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor also could call on lawmakers to deal with other items in a quick session, including "sanctuary city" legislation, an emergency item that failed to pass during the regular session, as well as reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
No public hearings
Lawmakers have to resolve the school funding problem before Sept. 1, when the current budget ends and the new one is to take effect.
House Democrats protested efforts to pass a new school funding plan for the $37 billion the state will spend on public education during the next two years because there were no public hearings. House debate for the new, 300-page plan was limited to 40 minutes of questions and 45 minutes for each side to make speeches.
"No parents have had a say on this bill. No teachers have had a say on this bill. No educators have had a say on this bill. No business leaders have had a say on this bill," Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said. "This is so wrong."
Texas voters should be outraged, he said, adding, "They will get the final say."
Lawmakers, essentially, are being told to "hold your noses, close your eyes and vote for it," Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, told his colleagues.
Public school funding affecting nearly 5 million Texas schoolchildren deserves public input and scrutiny, Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said.
"This is not enough for public schools," he said, emphasizing that support for cutting public spending will obligate local school boards to raise taxes to cover the difference.
"You are voting for a tax increase today," he said.
Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, a former school board member, defended the bill. "The plan is fair, is balanced and, more importantly, creates the blueprint for equity in the system in the future," Huberty said.
The new school funding plan would cost Houston-area school districts a combined $645.4 million over the next two years or $745.1 million if federal Education Jobs money is not included. House leaders put the $830 million federal money into their plan to soften the appearance of the education budget cuts in their printout of district-by-district impacts. However, the U.S. Department of Education already has sent those funds - roughly $134 per student - to the Texas Education Agency and are on their way to local school districts.
The public education cuts are about half what were proposed in the preliminary budget.
"Schools in Houston and elsewhere will still suffer significantly in the years to come," Houston ISD officials said in a prepared statement. "Texas is already 43rd in the nation in terms of funding per student and this $4 billion cut will likely move Texas further down that list. Given that this cut is happening at a time when the Legislature is simultaneously moving to a more rigorous accountability system, this substantial reduction in state funding will undoubtedly have an impact on our students' education. Houston and other Texas school districts will not have the same level of resources to provide much-needed tutoring, accelerated learning opportunities, and more teacher support."
To slash $4 billion from public education, $2 billion will come from across the board cuts in the first year followed by another $500 million in the second year. An additional $1.5 billion in the second year will be cut by reducing "target revenue" - a system in place since 2006 that has produced large distortions in school funding. Property wealthy schools general benefit under the target revenue system, which largely froze school funding at 2006 levels with the exception of additional money to cover enrollment growth.
Democrats also complained that the new plan will scrap the state's existing obligation to repay school districts if their appropriations end up less than pledged. It's a change that would allow lawmakers to routinely underfund schools, Hochberg said.
But House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said he doesn't "see that happening."
Public school funding cuts likely will highlight next year's election campaigns.
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, conceded that votes to cut public education may be risky considering public polling results indicate opposition to cuts.
"It may hurt all of us, but we shouldn't make decisions based on a political outcome - our own political neck," she said. "We need to make the decisions based on what is best for our districts and for the people of Texas."
For her and many other Republicans, that meant belt-tightening for all government - including local schools. School boards and administrators will have to make priorities just as families do, Riddle said. "If cuts need to be made, they have to be made from the top down. They need to start with the administration - cutting salaries and cutting positions," she said.
Texans who don't like the tough votes that Republican lawmakers made, Riddle said, "They will get somebody else in here to do it, I suppose. We can all, at least, sleep at night and look at ourselves in the morning knowing that we did what was best - not just what was politically expedient."
Not using the rainy day fund to spare public education from funding cuts is like watching a house burn down with a fire hose standing by "because you don't want your water bill may go up," Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, R-San Antonio, said.
Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7587080.html#ixzz1NqrDaTvW
AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers passed major changes to Medicaid on Wednesday that would privatize the health program in South Texas and allow the formation of health care cooperatives.
The 142-page measure is part of a special legislative session to pass laws that will balance the state budget. The Legislative Budget Board says it could save the state $467 million, almost two-thirds of that coming from Medicaid savings. Medicaid is a joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.
"It's a big bill and it tries to do a lot of things, it really is transformative," said Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, who authored the bill and is also a doctor.
The bill passed 91-47, largely along party lines with Democrats opposing it. After a final procedural vote, the measure goes back to the Senate for consideration of the small changes made by amendments added Thursday.
Representatives from South Texas expressed concern that allowing private health care companies to manage the Medicaid program could create problems by cutting reimbursement rates to doctors. That would result in fewer doctors accepting Medicaid patients, and fewer poor people receiving adequate medical care.
Zerwas assured fellow legislators he was confident private managed care would work along the Rio Grande Valley, Texas's largest Medicaid service area. Managed care groups already administer Medicaid in the rest of the state.
"Now that we've had some experience with that, we now feel confident that we can move it out into South Texas," Zerwas said.
Lawmakers are cutting $27 billion worth of state services in order to balance the budget. The Legislative Budget Board says the Medicaid portion of the budget that was passed during the regular session is $4.8 billion short of expected case growth, and supporters of this bill said they hope it will save more money.
The bill establishes the Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency, which would seek to identify and encourage innovative health care programs that save money. The institute would supervise the implementation of the bill and report back to the Legislature.
"When has the government made anything more efficient?" asked Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, asked about the new institute, in opposition to the bill.
The biggest change would be the establishment of state-sanctioned health care collaboratives, which allow hospitals, doctors and insurers to work together to lower costs. Critics worry that such organizations would violate anti-trust laws, but the bill requires the attorney general to first determine that the new group would not affect the health market in that community.
Simpson urged lawmakers to vote against the bill because of the immunities the bill would give health care collaboratives against anti-trust laws.
The measure also abolishes the State Kids Insurance Program and moves those children into the Child's Health Insurance Program. The state would also require Medicaid patients to make co-payments.
In order to lower costs, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop and evaluate doctor incentive programs designed to keep non-urgent cases out of the emergency room. The bill would also allow public hospitals that treat legal immigrants to demand repayment for health services from that person's sponsor, if they have one.
The state would also create the Medicaid and CHIP Quality-Based Payment Advisory Committee to develop ways to pay doctors based on the patient's outcome rather than payment per procedure. The state would develop incentive programs for doctors, hospitals and nursing homes.
The measure also prioritizes where state family planning funds would go, a subject of intense debate during the regular session as conservatives attempted to cut off all support to groups associated with Planned Parenthood. The money would first go to public entities, then private entities that offer other primary care services and finally to private entities that offer family planning services alone.
Some health care providers would also be required to get vaccinations against preventable diseases. Some workers could request exemptions, but the facility would have to take steps to ensure the worker does not infect patients.
Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7601848.html#ixzz1OjRwwxpt
Lack of quorum shuts down state House
The Texas House shut down early today because not enough members showed up to create a necessary quorum.
A vote for an amendment during debate on a fiscal matters bill involving the judiciary revealed fewer than 100 members were in the chamber. It takes 100 of the 150 House members to make a quorum.
Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, pointed out to the House parliamentarian that not enough members were there, so the House adjourned until Tuesday morning. Lawmakers are meeting in a special session to write a school funding plan while also taking on several other issues that Gov. Rick Perry placed on the agenda, including an immigration-related “sanctuary cities” bill.