It would be easy to dismiss the fireworks in the Texas Senate today as the reaction of an elite fraternity punishing a party crasher. But the reality is Dan Patrick deserved his public upbraiding on several levels:
1. Joe McCarthy was hated in the fifties and he’s hated now. How irresponsible is it to claim you have found $3 billion in savings in the state’s budget — and yet not have shared this important information with anyone on the Finance Committee? But there was Patrick, waiving his list of “savings” on the Senate floor while shouting out names and numbers, looking very much like Joe McCarthy waiving a list of known Communists. Did Patrick ever stop to say why a certain program was unworthy of state expenditures? Had he investigated whether it pulled down any federal matching dollars? All of these questions went unanswered because, as John Whitmire pointed out during his tongue-lashing of Patrick, if Patrick had been serious about making the cuts, he would have vetted them through the committee. There, state agencies can be summoned to explain how the dollars are spent. And if they couldn’t justify the expenditure, the Finance Committee would have happily transferred the funds to more pressing state needs. Perhaps the funniest part of the Patrick-Whitmire exchange came when Patrick promised to share his list of “savings” with the press. “The press? The press doesn’t have a vote!” Whitmire yelled. “This member of the press does!” came Patrick’s inane reply. The guy completely missed the point: if he wants to get something done, he should be negotiating with his fellow senators, not grandstanding for the press or practicing for his radio broadcst.
2.Kindergarten rule No. 1: Pick on somebody your own size. Throughout the Senate’s six-hour discussion of the budget, several Democrat members decried the decision to leave $3 billion on the table for property tax cuts. All of them talked about the rich. And yet, Patrick waits until sickly Mario Gallegos, who’s recovering from a liver transplant for Crimminy’s sake, makes the same comment. And bam! Patrick lets him have it! Wonder why Patrick didn’t decide to “stand up for hard-working middle-class Texans” when it would have forced him to debate silver-tongued Rodney Ellis or cerebral Eliot Shapleigh? Much easier to beat up on the skinny kid.
3. He showed complete ignorance of, and contempt for, the budgetary process. When Patrick made his initial comments on the floor, he had the audacity to tell war-weary Steve Ogden that he thought it would be a good idea if a specially-appointed commission study the state budget during the interim. What does he think Ogden’s been doing with his life the last few sessions? Shortly after both Tommy Williams and Judith Zaffirni went into lengthy detail about how many hours the committee had met, and agency budget requests were vetted through the Legislative Budget Board, the state auditor, comptroller performance reviews, etc., etc. Patrick never seemed to catch on that they were responding to him. I think Patrick was in the Senate Lounge by that point. As one Senator said to me, “If you already know everything, you don’t have to waste time listening.
Among all of Patrick’s statements, one insult stands out brightest. He asked Ogden how much he had to give away in order to secure 21 votes to bring up the budget. I have no doubt that certain state programs are well-protected. No one’s going to worry too much over in College Station as long as Ogden is chairman. But the bulk of the real fights in Finance arose over how best to deliver services: waiting lists versus doctor compensation rates; how to best distribute public ed dollars; how to reign in TxDOT and exactly what staffing levels does TYC need to clean up its act. When I heard Patrick’s question, I thought, this is a guy who doesn’t believe in government spending at all.
By the way, Patrick never did send his list of “savings” to the press. We’re all still waiting.