Democrat, Houston, 45. Too much coffee? Can’t sleep? Tossing and turning all night? Log on to the Legislature’s Web site (www.capitol.state.tx.us) and listen to an audio clip of the House Public Education Committee engaged in a discussion of school finance. It’s mind-numbing jargon: tier one, tier two, tier three, basic allotment, guaranteed yield, hold harmless, snore. If this doesn’t put you to sleep, nothing will—unless you’re Scott Hochberg.
Now in his fourth term, Hochberg has been a force in education policy since he came to the House. He is strong in other areas as well—this year, for instance, he proved his mettle by passing high-profile bills to toughen drunk-driving standards and protect religious institutions from excessive regulation—but he has mastered the impenetrable mysteries of school finance better than anyone at the Capitol. It’s a nasty job, but somebody has to do it, since billions of dollars and more than a thousand school districts are at risk. The biggest problem with this session’s $3.8 billion education package of property-tax cuts, teacher pay raises, and new programs was a technical one: how to distribute the money in a way that didn’t shortchange some local districts or unjustly enrich others. All session long Hochberg toiled in the legislative boiler room—tightening this nut, replacing that bolt, poring over computer printouts—until he came up with a contraption that worked: a “tax compression” plan that will force districts to lower their tax rates if they want more money from the state. (And how exactly does it work? As Senate Education Committee chairman Teel Bivins said about another Hochberg proposal, “Only God and Scott Hochberg understand.”)
In the past Hochberg has been relegated to playing second fiddle to Ten Best fixture Paul Sadler. As a result, when the awards were handed out, he was overlooked as regularly as Susan Lucci. Not anymore. At long last, it’s her year—and his.