Over the past week, two newspapers produced stories on how the border surge has resulted in fewer tickets and fewer criminal investigations in the rest of the state by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Dr. Stuart Spitzer, a state representative, wants Texans to abstain from sex out of wedlock, but statistics show teens in his district have their cars a-rockin’ on Saturday nights—and probably some other nights, too.
“My goal is for everyone to be abstinent until they are married,” Spitzer told the House during a state budget debate last night.
If that’s Spitzer’s goal, in his district, he’s a long way from it.
At roughly six am this morning, after about 18 hours of debate on more than 300 amendments, the House voted on HB1, which the general appropriations bill for the 2016-17 biennium. Official passage, on third reading, will have to wait until this afternoon, but the preliminary vote makes a dispositive statement: 141 in favor versus 5 against.
Some of the oddest personality and political dynamics that have filled the Capitol’s melting pot in years are creating simmering frustrations and anxieties that started moving toward an angry boil as the House debated a $209.8 state budget proposal today.
Budget debates always are contentious because they involve bringing home the bacon, stealing someone else’s bacon or a flat-out refusal to slaughter the hog. Budget fights also are heated because the majority of the amendments – and there are more than 350 this year – have less to do with good governance than they do with creating record votes that the opposition can use in the next election.
This debate, however, also is setting the tone for a coming blow-up, not only in the House but also in the Senate, where a near meltdown was narrowly averted last week. There are three main factions this year: frustrated tea party Republicans, conservative Republicans and frustrated Democrats.
Evidence just keeps building that Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw is engaging in resume padding in hopes the Legislature will approve his request for 500 additional personnel to secure the Texas border with Mexico – well, that portion of the border in Hidalgo and Starr counties.
Dead Confederates roil the University of Texas. Confederate battle flags on state license plates argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. And, Great Ghost of John C. Calhoun, bills on nullification of federal laws are pending in the state Legislature. It’s hard to believe April 9 will mark the 150th Anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
Texas officially hung on until Major General Kirby Smith signed articles of surrender on June 2, 1865, in Galveston. But the spirit of that conflict lives on today in our politics and was evident on at least two fronts this past week.
Newspaper investigations this weekend raise serious questions about whether the border security surge has left the rest of Texas less safe. Border security and immigration were good political issues in 2014 for candidates such as Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, plus numerous state legislators. These stories, however, point to a potentially growing theme for next year’s legislative elections: misplaced priorities, especially if crime increases in parts of Texas not on the border.
Former Governor Rick Perry’s mantra was that the Texas economy is served best when state lawmakers “don’t spend all the money.” That doesn’t mean Perry was against spending money, and he exploded when one legislative session ended with the Legislature leaving unspent $2.2 billion in general revenue and $4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. “Generally speaking, it’s not the investments made in the budget that concern me,” Perry told the Austin newspaper. “It’s the charades; it’s the accounting sleights of hand; it’s the budgetary wizardry that gives me pause, especially with the state awash in revenue.”
Some things never change. The House Appropriations Committee this week sent the full House a $210 billion, two-year state budget that looks less like a paragon of fiscal conservatism than it does like a candidate for a reality television show on hoarding. The proposed House budget leaves $2 billion unspent from general revenue and $11.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. The budget also includes $4 billion in retained dedicated funds that can be used to certify the budget as balanced.
House leaders today announced they are going to add $800 million to the state’s budget in an effort to settle a school finance lawsuit brought by districts after the state cut $5 billion from education funding in 2011. That would leave $1.2 billion unspent. The yet to be seen House tax plan will whittle this amount down some, but overall this is a budget to make the legislators who ticked off Perry look like pikers.
Meanwhile, the Senate today took up legislation to reduce homeowner property taxes and lower franchise taxes for small businesses. It was a tax cut field day for the Senate’s Republicans, with votes they can carry to the electorate next year. Senators also approved a proposed constitutional amendment to bar the taxation of real estate transfers – that’s a tax that has never been collected. They also eliminated the estate tax, which has not been collected on any death since 2005. Senators also gave a $1.2 million tax break to the industry of boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Ki-ap! Take that House!