Legislative bodies seldom live up to what the public expects of them- and certainly the 65 th Legislature is no exception. Perhaps our standards were unrealistically high after the statesmanlike 1975 Legislature. That session was under the shaping influence of the ill-fated 1974 Constitutional Convention; legislators retained a seriousness of purpose that enabled them to attack many of the state’s most pressing problems. Unfortunately, this session’s dominant force was nothing so noble; it ws money, both too much and not enough. Legislators began work with $3 billion more than in 1975; it seemed more than enough to fund state agencies adequately, make real headway in achieving school district equalization, provide some taxpayer relief, and perhaps have some loose change left for a new program or, or possibly to purchase some park land. What happened instead was a scene reminiscent of The Old Man and the Sea; while legislators were contemplating how to handle their massive catch, the sharks got it first.
Every pressure group imaginable wanted a bite—from junior colleges to nursing homes—but by far the biggest appetite belonged to a tight-knit alliance of road contractors, truckers, and gasoline refiners. When Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby capitulated on the $528 million highway bill (after insisting earlier that $245 million was enough), morale in both houses plummeted to a post-Sharpstown low. It didn’t take long for legislators to realize that there wasn’t going to be any money left for their pet projects; the only question unsettled was not how the rest of the surplus would be spent but where. As a result, though the 65 th legislature will not go down as one of the most eventful in Texas history, it may well prove to be a watershed in Texas politics, the session where the old divisions into liberal and conservative camps