More on HB2
Mon February 19, 2007 5:57 pm

Amendment 1, by Leibowitz. Unless homestead exemption is achieved, schools cannot draw from Foundation School funds. Otto, so schools can't draw money without a homestead exemption. We're holding out schools hostage. Aren't you telling us that they can't get money to operate, unless we adopt a homestead exemption?

The Democrats are trying to get a $45,000 homestead exemption on the bill. This kind of power play can't work. The Legislature will never vote to freeze basic school funds.

Bohac points out that there are many school districts that don't have average home value of $45K. Hardcastle says his district is that kind of district. Chisum says that his district is under $40,000.

Gallego says, Isn't it true that homestead exemption has already passed this house? Chisum, never passed. Gallego: It's still early. Time to make other funding decisions. Chisum: Do you know this is $3.6B of the $5B? (This is surely fatal to what Leibowitz wants to do.) Gallego: This lowers property taxes, doesn't it? Chisum: You don't just lower the taxes, you raise the taxes on everybody else, forever. Gallego: The tax bill that is $6 billion light is forever, too. Chisum: If you reduce my taxes to zero, it means those taxpayers who aren't homestead have to pay more taxes. Gallego: No, the state has to make up the local share. (He says he's going to vote for HB2).

Dunnam: Were you here in August of 2005 when Mr. Hochberg passed this amendment? Dunnam also mentions that the Ds were precluded from offering the amendment in the special session by a Calendars Committee amendment.

The motion to table prevails, 82-60. So the Democrats lost at least 9 votes.

Herrero amendment: Another contigency rider that freezes the school fund. Must bring teachers salaries to the national average ($4K more than Texas pays) before funds can be withdrawn.

The Republicans are going to have to cast some bad votes on these amendments. Chisum, in moving to table the Leibowitz amendment, clearly voted against his district's interests. That is what he has do. But I think the idea of using these contingency riders to, as Chisum said, hold the tax cut hostage is a bad way to write a budget. I think the Legislature ought to raise the homestead exemption, so that every homeowner in the state gets a measurable benefit, not just those with expensive homes. And, of course, I'm for a teacher pay raise. But this isn't the right way to do it.

Chisum opposes. Truitt asks if he is aware that Texas ranks high on the teacher salary scale if you take into account the cost of living. He is. Chisum moves to table. Motion prevails, 75-65.

Now Republicans have gone on record as against homestead agreements and against teacher salary increases. This the game the Democrats are playing. It doesn't win in the Capitol, but it paid off in the last election.

Castro wants full funding for textbooks, another contingency rider. Branch says we have full funding. Castro says we're funding one million fewer textbooks than the TEA wanted (because of the governor's requirement of a 10% cut, Castro says). He's for tax relief and intends to vote for it, but he thinks we ought to vote now for the other priorities in this state. Eissler: This money doesn't even come out of school funds. It's separate. Castro: You don't think that having a million books less than TEA wanted affects the educational quality? Eissler: We have ample funding in the Permanent School Fund to take care of our textbook needs. Chisum: At one time we were behind on textbooks, but we have caught up. Moves to table. Tabled, 81-60.

Craddick gave Hochberg his answer about the LBB.

Frankly, I didn't quite understand all the ramifications of the answer. The LBB's base bill falls within the spending cap. However, as Hochberg pointed out, the $14B in HB2 is not included in the base bill. All I can say is, regardless of the technicalities of statutory interpretation, if it is possible to get around the spending cap by the fiction of dividing spending into two bills, then the spending cap is toothless and not worth the paper it's printed on.

Coleman amendment is withdrawn, to be rewritten. New version: Gifted and Talented, and pre-K grants revert to the 06-07 biennium level. Puts back $31M for dropouts (G&T), $18.4M. With surplus, there was no reason to have a 10% cut. Kolkhorst: Does have an initial cut. Something my subcommittee is looking at right now. We heard testimony last week. It's something I'm fairly committed to. Castro: You agree that these two programs are important. K: Yes. Castro: The real dropout rate in Edgewood is 50-60%. Kolkhorst: I'm committed to these initiatives. Last session SB1 didn't have the funding when it came to us, but we added it as it went through the process. Coleman: This is one of the challenges around here. Right now, we're about to appropriate $14.1B for tax cuts but we can't appropriate $31B for the student success initiative. Why was there a 10% cut? Kolkhorst: There was a draft letter for a 10% cut. Coleman: I'll take down this amendment now if you'll tell me this will be in HB1. K: If I were a comittee of one ... the gentlewoman's time has expired. K. moves to table. Coleman: The priorities of this Legislature has to be balanced. If we can't bring these programs back to their former level, before the cuts, then our priorities are wrong. Tabled, 80-65. That's the end of the amendments.

Chisum moves passage. No one speaks against. Will anyone vote against the tax cut? 138 ayes, 6 nays, 1 PNV.

I wrote earlier, in opposing Governor Perry's efforts to expand his power through executive orders, that I trust the legislative branch more than I trust the executive, because the procedures of the Legislature offer protection to all interested parties, and full opportunity for debate, whereas the executive branch has no such safeguards. I see no reason to change my position about the executive branch, but the process employed by the Senate to bust the spending cap and by the House to appropriate the money was designed to minimize public input and debate. House Democrats were left with little choice but to use the flawed vehicle of contingency riders to make their points, and Senate Democrats couldn't even do that; they were reduced to making ineffective parliamentary inquiries. This reminded me of congressional debates, in which the most important decision by the majority is not the substance of the legislation but the procedural contraints imposed upon the minority to prevent them from presenting effective alternatives.

This blog is adjourned.

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week