The Six-Billion-Dollar Men

George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and Pete LaNey will have the pleasant task of divvying up a huge budget surplus in the upcoming legislative session—if greed, partisan politics, and presidential ambitions don’t get in the way.

SIX BILLION DOLLARSWORTH OF SURPLUS. Six billion. Being rich beats being poor any day, but for states, as for individuals, three things are still true: The money is never enough, it doesn’t solve all your problems, and all the relatives want a piece of it. So the 76th Legislature, which begins meeting this month, will find plenty to fight over.

The budget will overshadow all the other issues this session, including such hardy biennials as school vouchers, parental notification of abortions, tort reform (to limit Y2K lawsuits), a turf fight between local and long distance telephone companies, and electric restructuring, which used to be called electric deregulation until some pollster found that the public liked the same idea better if it was called restructuring. The only thing that matters is money, money, money, and the claimants are everywhere: tax cutters, big spenders, universities, highway builders, and children’s health advocates, to name a few. Just about everybody can make a good case. The state parks system is broke. Nursing homes are pleading for more state money, and so are mental health professionals who want the state to pay for expensive new drugs. Schoolteachers could use a pay raise, as always. Somehow Governor George W. Bush, Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry, and Speaker of the House Pete Laney must make the tough decisions at a time when Bush is thinking about running for president, Perry is trying to learn the ropes, and Laney is clinging to the narrowest of margins over Republicans that a Democratic Speaker has had in the two-party era.

We were trying to sort all this out when, wonder of wonders, we stumbled upon what appear to be confidential memos to the state’s three top officials from their political consultants. For your eyes only.

To: George W. Bush

From: Graham O. Partie, Republican consultant

THE FIRST THING YOU HAVE TO DO IS MAKE UP YOUR MIND whether you’re running for president. You’d like to get through the session without tipping your hand—the longer you wait, the less time the media and your Republican rivals will have to shower abuse on you. But you can’t delay much longer,

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