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scott hochberg

Pre-filed amendments to budget bills set the stage for culture wars on spending

Mar 30, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

The next several days of Texas House budget debate may be as much about the culture wars as state spending. Pre-filed amendments to the three budget-related bills before the House contain limitations on private school vouchers, funding for Planned Parenthood and directives to higher education to fund centers for traditional family values if they provide funding for support centers for gay students. Debate is set to begin Thursday on House Bill 4 to erase a deficit in the current budget and on House Bill 275 to take $3.2 billion out of the state's so-called rainy day fund. Debate is set for Friday and into the weekend on House Bill 1, a bare bones spending plan for the next two years. Some of the pre-filed amendments may never be debated because there is a possibility that they are not procedurally proper for an appropriations bill. But they do show state spending is about more than just spending – or in this case cutting.

House budget shocks and awes

Jan 19, 2011 By Patricia Kilday Hart

If the purpose of the House budget bill was Shock-and-Awe, it achieved maximum success: House Democrats wasted no time identifying the many, many Doomsday scenarios that would result if state programs are cut to fit available revenue. No room for grandma at the nursing home. No financial aid for worthy…

The Week in Review

Mar 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

This post has been revised since its initial publication. 1. The Tom Schieffer candidacy. Patricia Kilday Hart and I interviewed Tom Schieffer about his race for the Democratic nomination governor. Interestingly, Schieffer asked to go off the record before the interview to discuss the events that led to his being named one of the Ten Worst legislators in 1975. That was my first year to participate in the writing of the story, along with my then-colleague, Griffin Smith. The writeup was one of the toughest that we have ever written. It was full of anonymous quotes, which we seldom use today. Nowadays, the writeups are largely based on the public record. Schieffer was involved in one of the session's biggest fights, an effort to authorize Texas's first presidential primary in order to aid U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen's bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. The Texas Democratic party in that era was split into liberal and conservative wings, and Schieffer was a conservative Democrat. The liberals were fighting him hard all the way, including my former mentor, Babe Schwartz, and I am sure that that influenced the writeup. The ink was hardly dry on the issue before I began to have second thoughts about whether Schieffer really deserved being on the Worst list. The bill did pass, and Texas did have its first primary--not that it helped Bentsen, who was overwhelmed in his home state by Jimmy Carter. Schieffer has gone on to have a successful career as an oil and gas operator, as president of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and as ambassador to Australia and Japan in the George W. Bush administration. He should be considered a legitimate candidate for governor. The Ten Worst article was 34 years ago. There are lot of obstacles in the path of a Schieffer candidacy, but that article shouldn't be one of them. The main obstacles, of course, are Schieffer's association with Bush and his well motivated, but ultimately self-defeating, unwillingness to distance himself from his friend and former Rangers' business partner; his reluctance as a candidate, including the question of whether he will put his own money into the campaign; and--how do I put this?--a question of whether he has a feel for contemporary Texas politics. I had the feeling, talking to him, that he has one foot in the present and one foot in the seventies, when conservative Democrats ran the state. He still talks about Lloyd Bentsen and John Connally. Connally and Bentsen and Hobby were giants in their day, and they ran things a heck of a lot better than the Republicans have, but Schieffer so far seems like he is just putting his toes in the water. He needs to jump in. 2. The transportation stimulus package. Transportation is one area where the stimulus package can produce real jobs and have real economic benefits. So why is the amount so small--just $2.5 billion overall, and $1.2 billion in the first installment? One of the reasons is that Obama wants to invest in high-speed rail rather than roads. I think this is a mistake. I'd like to see more of the money go to highways and less to high-speed rail. High-speed rail requires total grade separation. For rural Texas, it will make the Trans-Texas Corridor battle look like a walk in the park. I ran some numbers back in the early nineties, when the idea of a bullet train was first floated, and to break even on the project's then $6 billion cost, trains had to run 97% full between Houston and Dallas 24 hours a day. Like it or not, the most efficient method of getting people from point A to point B is one lane of freeway. In an hour, it carries six times the number of people as rail, and the cost is approximately the same. Politically, the most important aspect of the transportation funding battle was the continuing hostility between TxDOT and the Legislature. TxDOT froze lawmakers out of the discussion of which projects should be funded, with the result that 70% of the money will go to toll roads. Legislators did not cover themselves with glory either, as some took the opportunity to lobby for projects in their districts. The level of mistrust of TxDOT is as high as it has ever been--thanks to Commissioner Ted Houghton, who decided to do a little bomb-throwing of his own at the March 5 meeting of the Texas Highway Commission, calling one of the witnesses and the organization he represents "idiots." Senator Hegar fired off a letter to Houghton, which included the following observations:

Let the speculation begin

Jan 19, 2009 By Paul Burka

Committee appointments will be the first real test of the Straus speakership. How many of the 149 members can he satisfy? Here are some of the problems he will face: —Straus has said that there will be no retaliation against Craddick loyalists. Good luck in keeping that promise. The ABCs…

A Suggestion for Straus

Jan 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

Before election day, when it still seemed as if Tom Craddick might win reelection as speaker, Terral Smith told me about what he hoped to do with committee assignments. Rather than use vice-chairmanships as a reward for loyal team members, Smith wanted to replicate the relationship between Rob Eissler and…

No Time for Tom

Dec 29, 2008 By Paul Burka

Everyone wants to attend Craddick’s funeral, but the corpse is still breathing—barely. One more nail in the awaiting coffin: The Democrats  published their names. It’s vital, as January 13 approaches, that the insurgents do everything possible to bolster their credibility, and the best way to do that was lay out…

Everyone’s a Speaker!

Nov 13, 2008 By Eileen Smith

11/14 Update: Peer Pressure works again! Now we have eight of the nine. (Delwin Jones, please report to me.) So who’s your favorite? Naturally, in the interest of bipartisanship and journalistic ethics, I will not be revealing my choice. 11/14 Update #2: Delwin Jones’s statement was lost in Evan Smith’s…