Follow the Money

Aug 19, 2015 By Jeff Salamon

A by-the-numbers look at how much Texas will spend, per person, on a variety of budgetary items.


Apr 1, 2015 By Erica Grieder

It’s hard to argue with results of the House debate over the budget bill.

The Deal

May 25, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

The sticking point in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate was the System Benefit Fund.

The Budget Moves Forward

May 23, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

They should have stamped “fragile” on the House budget package. That is how tricky it was to assemble. Chairman Pitts tried to explain to the tea party members that there was no money in SJR 1; it’s just a vessel for moving future payments into the Rainy Day Fund for…

About Last Night

May 22, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

Haven’t we seen this picture before? Speaker Straus performs well for most of the session, but when crunch time comes, he can’t close the deal. His team has no cohesion (except for Geren), and there doesn’t appear to be a strategy. So Straus falls back into his old persona of…

Elements of the Budget Deal

May 18, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

These were the final elements of the budget deal that was reached yesterday: –Add $200 million to the Foundation School Program –Use a portion of TRS funding to get to $3.9 billion, the Democrats’ target amount for restoring the school cuts The major point of disagreement arose…

Williams, Perry, and the Budget

May 16, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

This morning I wrote about the prospects for a budget deal, the topic du jour that is uppermost in everyone’s mind. The post contained, among other comments, this line: “House Democrats complained that Senate budget chief Tommy Williams had ‘misled’ them.” That is what I was told by…

Things Fall Apart

May 16, 2013 By brian sweany and Paul Burka

As we tweeted last night as events were rapidly developing, the hopes for a budget deal that would send everyone home happy appeared to evaporate yesterday. House Democrats complained that Senate budget chief Tommy Williams had “misled” them. Dewhurst showed up in the House chamber and disappeared into the back…

Area 51

Apr 8, 2013 By Paul Burka

The first day of debate over the House Appropriations bill is typically one of the most consequential events of a legislative session. Last Thursday’s debate was no exception. The highlight was a school vouchers amendment by Democrat Abel Herrero, of Corpus Christi: The language of Herrero’s amendment read,…

R.G.’s Take: The Budget Session Nobody Enjoyed

May 30, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

As the 82nd Legislature hurtled this weekend toward a crash landing, freshman Republican Representative Lanham Lyne of Wichita Falls stepped up to the front microphone of the Texas House to deliver his first major legislative speech. Lyne was arguing on behalf of the budget, which cuts billions, yet he seemed ambivalent, and in his impassioned soliloquy he managed to sum up the challenges of this session. He argued that his voters didn’t understand what they were doing when they demanded state budget cuts, but since they elected him he was obliged to give them what they want. This was, above all else, a budget session, and the legislators—both Democrats or Republicans—had bent themselves to the task without enthusiasm. They all knew that even though it would satisfy some voters in the short run, a budget containing massive cuts to state services was likely to make more constituents unhappy in the long run. The rumor was that the school finance plan that passed the House on Sunday by 84-63 already was unraveling with Republican members concerned about casting a vote that would hurt their district twice. Dewhurst gloomily predicted that a special session had the potential of lasting the full thirty days. So it was with fascination Saturday evening that I watched Lyne plead for passage of the available revenue budget with a speech that sounded like he was against it. He frankly recounted his own ignorance as a candidate—and that of his voters too. He held aloft a copy of the Texas Fact Book, a statistically compendium of how far behind the rest of the nation Texas is in funding services and education “Everywhere I went, the people said: Cut the budget, cut the budget, cut the budget. I’m not sure they knew Texas was not Washington, D.C., that we don’t spend money like Washington, D.C.,” said Lyne. “I did what the people sent me here to do from my district. But I guarantee you there are a lot of angry, unhappy people in my district because they didn’t want us to cut theirs, and they didn’t want us to raise taxes either. This is what the people who voted for the majority of the people here want to see, but I promise you they don’t know what gets spent in our Texas Legislature.”

R.G.’s Take: 82nd Legislature rolls the dice, betting on the come

May 20, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

Betting on the come, in gambling terms, means: You don’t have what you need but you’re betting that you will have it when you need it. Betting on the come is exactly what House and Senate Republicans are doing with Governor Rick Perry as they press for a final budget deal before the legislative session ends on Memorial Day. They are betting that the state’s economy will improve enough by 2013 to raise enough additional tax revenues to cover what essentially is $6 billion to $10 billion in deficit spending. The Republican leadership is pushing some of our budget problems down to local governments while also engaging in accounting tricks and deferrals that will come home to roost in the next budget cycle, if not sooner. Their budget pushes about $4.8 billion in Medicaid spending off to the next budget (as a federal entitlement that is money that cannot be cut), and counts on unapproved federal waivers to reduce Medicaid spending. It also defers $1.8 billion in payments to school districts by a month, pushing that spending into the next budget cycle too. If a new school funding formula fails to pass, then current law will trigger a system of proration. That means the state will not pay school districts money they currently are owed but would have to pay those districts in the next budget cycle. That would add somewhere between $5 billion and $6 billion to the Legislature’s deficit tab. Proration is avoided by changing the funding formulas to short-change school districts. One of the latest bright ideas from the Senate is to simply change the estimate on how much revenue property taxes will raise for local school districts. The more money property taxes raise for the districts, the less money the state owes them. House Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands told me that would be worth about $800 million for the budget balancers. It also would be a hidden cut to the state’s school districts. The GOP leadership is jumping through all these budget hoops all in the name of preserving the rainy day fund because we may need the money in the future. With this budget, we are almost guaranteed to need the money in the future.

On the Lege video-Rodney Ellis

May 7, 2011 By Paul Burka

This week we spoke to Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, about the Senate leadership’s decision to bypass the traditional two-thirds rule to take up the budget.

R.G.’s Take: No budget joy in Mudville

Apr 28, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden stands like Casey at the Bat, fully wanting to score. And nothing but a base hit, or a walk, perhaps, will get him to the floor. As this week ended with the scoreboard showing naught, Ogden admitted he lacked the stroke to bring his budget up for Senate debate. He described his position in baseball terms: The right foul line is the conservatives who want no additional money taken from the rainy day fund to balance the next two-year budget. The left foul line is the liberals who want to increase taxes to avoid deep cuts in public education. Neither side has the votes to prevail, Ogden said today. “I don’t have a bill between the foul lines yet, but we’re working on it.” The dilemma for senators on both sides is they hold the most power now because the vote to debate requires two thirds vote of those present, while a House-Senate conference committee report requires a simple majority to pass. But to pay for the Senate plan, 21 votes also are required to spend money from the rainy day fund. So both votes require a combination of Republican and Democratic senators. Ogden said those holding out for more spending should give up because the Senate bill is as good as it is going to get. And as bad as his proposed two-year budget would be for Texas, politically, it probably is the best that can be passed by the current Legislature. Other than a redistricting bill, there is nothing more political than the state budget. Deciding how to spend the taxpayers’ dollars may seem like a noble task of stewardship. But it is really about chasing campaign dollars and votes. And that is what derailed the Senate budget plan this week. First, look first at the inside fight of what senators called “twosies versus threesies,” Article II Medicaid versus Article III education. Senate Republicans decided to fund nursing homes and doctor’s reimbursements ahead of higher and public education. That erased the specter of nursing homes closing across Texas. It also cooled opposition from the health care industry, which pours about $7 million into legislative campaigns every cycle. But that meant less money for education, important to Democrats.

R.G.’s Take: Senate budget plan is still bad business

Apr 22, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

If you think of the two-year budget passed by the Texas House as a bankruptcy filing for the State of Texas, then the budget approved by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday is a reorganization plan that requires a substantial liquidation of assets. Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) and other senators who supported the plan bragged on how the Senate budget contains $12 billion more than the House budget, but the $176.5 billion Senate version still cuts $11 billion from current state services. It’s sort of like Dish Network saving Blockbuster Video from going completely out of business in bankruptcy court. Even in saving Blockbuster, Dish still plans to close hundreds of stores, putting an untold number of people out of work. It may be good for business, but not for all the employees or customers.

Steve Ogden’s Sweet Spot

Apr 18, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden today talked to reporters about the Senate’s two year budget proposal. The bottom line numbers, they said, will remain a squishy secret until Thursday. And how extra money for the plan will be raised will be revealed Tuesday. But for…

R.G.’s Take: Businesses want the state spending, but how do they want to pay for it?

Apr 1, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

The open-air rotunda in the Capitol extension is the demarcation line between business and government. South of the rotunda are the numerous committee rooms where businesses settle disputes using the Legislature as an “honest broker.” North of the line, the business of government is conducted as the state budget is written in the House appropriations and Senate finance committee rooms. This year business lobbyists are whistling Dixie and staying south of the rotunda lest their clients be asked to raise their hands and say, “Tax me.” That doesn’t mean Texas business refuses to see the current budget battle as a business issue. The state’s mostly Republican mainstream business community is publicly and privately expressing angst over the level of cuts in the House budget bills being debated this weekend. Massive cuts, business groups say, are a down payment on a bleak Texas future. But those same business leaders are providing little guidance to lawmakers on how to pay for a revenue-shortfall state budget without cuts. Instead they are abdicating their influence in the House to lawmakers’ fears of angry, libertarian anti-government voters. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) told me business leaders tell him they are worried about the economic impact of the budget but so far none are willing to help him find ways to pay for the cuts. “I have all these people come see me, some pretty substantial business people in Texas, and I’ve told them they need to do the lobbying,” Pitts says.

Sneak Attack on Public Integrity Unit?

Mar 31, 2011 By Nate Blakeslee

Buried in the four-inch stack of amendments to the house budget bill is a subtly crafted ambush on the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. This is the outfit that investigates corruption cases involving public officials, the most famous of which in recent memory was Ronnie Earle’s dogged pursuit of Tom Delay in the TRMPAC case. Earle has moved on, but Republicans haven’t forgiven or forgotten. This session, Arlington Republican Bill Zedler filed a bill (HB 1928) seeking to move the unit out of the Travis County D.A.’s office and into the Attorney General’s office, which is to say, out of Democratic control and into Republican-held territory. Similar efforts in previous sessions went nowhere, and Zedler’s bill has yet to get a hearing. But he may not need one to get the revenge Republicans have been seeking. That’s because one of Zedler's proposed HB 1 amendments, a seemingly simple half-page item (on page 251 of the stack) moving funding for the Public Integrity Unit over to the AG’s office, contains what appears to be a cleverly couched sneak attack.

Follow the money

May 21, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

At today’s post-Senate session press avail, Sen. Steve Ogden says the final budget document approved by conferees shapes public policy in several big ways, including: 1. “A dramatic shift in policy in how we serve mentally retarded Texans” represented by a $500 million increase in total funds for community services…

House prevails on stem cells

May 19, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

Sen. Steve Ogden just announced that his rider banning use of state funds for embryonic stem cell research will not appear in the new state budget. “We really couldn’t come to a consensus” so the bill will be silent on the stem cell issue, Ogden announced in this morning’s conference…

The Cold War

Apr 19, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House budget debate had a lot in common with the Cold War. The two sides came to the battlefield fully armed, but they engaged in frequent diplomacy that avoided a nuclear conflagration. Jessica Farrar, for the Democratic caucus, and various Republicans, Phil King among them, held a summit on reproductive issues--strategies to prevent abortion, for the R's, and family planning funds, for the D's, both of which were under attack from the other side--and agreed to total disarmament. All proposed amendments were moved to Article 11, where dreams go to die. Nothing came to a vote. All this peace and harmony slowed down the House's already glacial pace. Motions to table amendments were rare. Instead, the chair would intone, "The amendment is withdrawn," and the glacier would grind to a halt while members looked for a way to fix the problem. For example, Mark Strama had an early amendment to state the intent of the Legislature that not less than 70% of the research superiority grants from the Emerging Technology Fund should be for clean energy research and development. Otto didn't agree with stating an exact percentage, and everything stopped while they worked out agreeable language. Occasionally an amendment would spur the ideologues into action. Martinez-Fischer had an amendment to encourage the Employees Retirement System to hire more minority fund raisers. Christian, the chair of the Conservative Coalition, jumped into the fray: What is a minority? Do you know the performance of minority fund managers? Give me a fund where a minority fund manager has performed well. Phillips followed with an amendment to the amendment that would have required fund managers to be chosen on the basis of experience, skill, education, and demonstrated success. Point of order! Sustained. The most dreaded words of the debate were: "Rule 8, Section 4"--the grounds for a point of order that an amendment was attempting to make law in an appropriations bill, in contradiction to the text of the rule: "General law may not be changed by the provision in an appropriations bill." This was the graveyard of many an amendment, including Berman's immigration amendments. Sometimes, as in the case of Christian's proposal to remove all funding for the Public Integrity Unit and give the authority to the attorney general, the amendment was quietly withdrawn. This was clearly the worst public policy in the entire debate, and I wonder if Abbott planted the suggestion. I wouldn't be surprised if more amendments weren't killed on points of order this year than last, but nobody seemed to mind, except Phillips, who made a personal privilege speech after Martinez-Fischer killed his attempt to tack on a contingent teacher pay raise.

No response from AG to Frew letter?

Apr 1, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte believes the Senate Finance Committee failed to include enough money in SB 1 to cover the state’s obligations under the settlement of the Frew v. Hawkins lawsuit, in which the state agreed two years ago to significantly improve access to Medicaid services.  And she lays…

In the good old summertime

Mar 17, 2009 By Paul Burka

You can see the train wreck coming: a special session over the budget and the stimulus package. Speculation is rampant that Perry will veto the appropriations bill, but he may not even have a bill to veto. The difficulties of melding the budget with the stimulus funds (and the rules…

The Six-Billion-Dollar Men

Jan 1, 1999 By Paul Burka

How to spend a huge budget surplus will be the defining issue of the coming legislative session. It will also determine the political futures of George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and Pete Laney.

Atomic War Fare

Apr 1, 1995 By Carol Chapman

Now is the time to visit New Mexico, where the A-bomb exploded on the scene half a century ago.

Straight Arrow

Jan 1, 1995 By Paul Burka

The new Ways and Means chairman, Bill Archer, takes aim at the federal budget.