His daunting task as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee: to write a state budget in the throes of an economic crisis that adequately meets the state’s needs and wins approval in a chamber almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Oh, and one more thing: Don’t even think about dipping into the nearly $7 billion stashed away in the Rainy Day Fund, because, notwithstanding the forecast of imminent precipitation, conservatives will rebel.
One of the assets Pitts brings to the job is a personality that leads his colleagues to want him to succeed. He is dignified but not aloof, and it’s a rare moment when he is not wearing a smile. Beware of such moments, as representatives of the governor’s office learned when Pitts questioned them about a $50 million grant to Texas A&M that, in his view, had not followed prescribed procedures. Nor did he find anything to smile about in a Senate rider banning embryonic stem cell research.
Shortly before the budget debate, Pitts asked to speak to the Texas Conservative Coalition. He emphasized that the House was proposing to spend $4 billion less than the Senate and would leave the Rainy Day Fund untouched. When the budget bill reached the floor, Pitts told the House, “This is a conservative bill that reduces general revenue spending, but not at the cost of essential programs and services. . . . It is not full of special items, earmarks for specific members.” After eighteen hours, the time came to vote. Astonishingly, every light on the scoreboards at the front of the chamber flashed green—an unprecedented vote of confidence in the chairman.