Senate diary
Fri May 6, 2011 11:40 am

The discussion over the budget last week included some dramatic conversations. I’m going to post my notes from the debate. Those who followed the debate are aware that the Democrats objected to the Republicans bypassing the two-third rule to pass the budget by majority vote.

Ellis: The decision was made to politicize the Rainy Day Fund. The choices do not reflect the consensus of this body. I don’t think we were given the option to find a consensus.

Davis: In 2003, the decision was made to deregulate college tuition. The rise in tuition has been exponential. In 2006, we changed the way we changed the way we funded our public schools. The comptroller said it would create a $10 billion deficit. That is what happened. We’re about to make another decision, and we’ll be saying, “Remember 2011, remember what the consequences were. We’re going to be borrowing money. I’m not sure we can commit to the repaying of $3 billion [for TxDOT]. SB 1811 – I voted for it, we’re going to collect ahead on taxes, but it’s just short-term fixes, using dedicated funds, using $3B for Medicaid, putting off $4.1 billion. Ultimately this house of cards is going to come tumbling down around us.

Ogden  The people of Texas spoke loud and clear last November that they wanted us to cut spending. We are telling school districts, if we don’t fund this budget, we’ll make it up to you.

[Unknown] When we institutionalize where we are in SB 22 [Shapiro], we may be dead last in school funding. Teacher groups couldn’t support SB 12. Teachers were asked to take salary reductions and furloughs, and still there will be terminations.

Ogden” SB 22 phases out target revenue. This is a major and essential improvement that makes us less subject to a court challenge.

Davis: Going back to 1984-84, we have never failed to fund student population growth.

Gallegos: [offers praise for Ogden]

Ogden: I appreciate all this appreciation, but what I really need is a couple of votes. We weren’t sent down here to protect the 2/3 rule.

[The following is from a brief interview with several Democrats in the back hallway]

Zaffirini: The Republicans broke tradition. They passed the budget in the regular order of business. Another tradition is that we never amend our bill on the floor. The chairmn amended his bill on the floor.

West: It’s a dark day in the Senate, the first budget passed in the last twenty. We have never had a budget passed on partisan lines. We voted the bill out with 2 Democrats voting for it.

Zaffirini: The Republicans broke tradition. They passed the budget on the regular order of business.

West: Now we’re going to leave the dollars in the Rainy Day Fund and kick the can down the road.

* * * * *

Democrats strongly criticized the Senate budget bill on the floor, with Zaffirini leading the way. It was clear that the D’s had nowhere to go. From their perspective, the Senate bill was terrible, the House bill horrific. The criticisms of the Senate bill were valid, but what was the point? The Democrats had no choice but to support the Senate bill. The House bill was much worse.

Ellis characterized the status of the 2/3 rule as: The two-thirds rule is in force as long as they [Republicans] have their 21 votes.

Zaffirini ran through a series of criticisms, citing exact figures: 354,362 persons would be served [health and human services], 247,848 would be left on waiting lists. In higher ed, $923 million in financial aid was cut. General academic institutions were cut by 50%. Health related institutions were cut by $252 million.

Nelson responded. “This budget reflects the values of the people of Texas. We are frightening people unnecessarily.” The waiting list, she said, had 250,000 people who are truluy waiting; the rest are on multiple lists, some are duplicatesmany (44%) are not eligtible. HIC funding was fully restored.

Borrowing a line from Democrats, Nelson said, “You talk about ‘putting a face on the cuts. There’s another group of people who we should put a face on – the taxpayer. This budget reflects what the majority of citizens of Texas expect of us.”

*****

Well, I know exactly what the face of the taxpayer looks like. Big grins. Wide smiles. The oil and gas boys still have their multi-billion-dollar tax exemption. The small business folks still have their million-dollar exemption. The Houston-are yacht dealers get a brand-new exemption. Can’t have our yacht owners buying from Florida, you know. All I can say is this: I want for Ogden and Pitts, for Dewhurst and Straus, for Rick Perry, to say, “This is exactly how George W. Bush, Bob Bullock, and Pete Laney would have run Texas.”

Not a chance.

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