Warren Chisum told the House that after the passage of HB 2, funding the property tax cut, that there will still be $5 billion over the base budget left to spend. I’m very skeptical about this. Remember, Dewhurst wants to set aside $3 billion to pay for the next round of property tax cuts. This is a role reversal; it has always been the House that has been parsimonious and the Senate that has wanted to spend more money. If the Senate is coming in light, I find it difficult to believe that the House will suddenly morph into advocates for spending.

Democrats believe that the play is that Chisum will bring a bill to the floor with the $5 billion unallocated, leaving the maximum maneuvering room in conference committee. No doubt there will be a Calendars committee rule putting the money beyond members’ reach with floor amendments. Then, in conference, the budget writers can put the money anywhere they want–and future property tax reductions is very likely to get a bundle.

The advantage to the leadership of leaving the money unspent is considerable. It can be used as a whip or a carrot in the closing weeks of the session to browbeat or entice members into casting their votes as the leadership wishes. We should know the script pretty soon. The Appropriations committee has begun marking up the bill. If HB 1 does not show significant increases over the base bill in areas like health care and education, you’ll know that the game plan is to make property tax relief the highest priority. Is it conceivable that this leadership could have a $14 billion surplus and still not make a significant effort to fund the basic needs of this state? It’s conceivable to me.

I had a conversation on this subject yesterday with a member of the Appropriations committee who is close to the leadership. It ended with our making a bet for dinner. The member said, You watch, we’ll spend $4 billion over the base bill.

I said, “I’ll take the under.” And make make my steak medium rare.