A way out of the carnage

Jun 1, 2009 By Paul Burka

Only two bills have to pass during a legislative session. One is the budget. The other is the safety-net Sunset bill. At this point, only one has passed. The death of the safety-net bill puts the existence of several state agencies, including TxDOT and the State Board of Insurance, at…

Hegar: Eminent domain needs to be part of TxDOT Sunset

May 20, 2009 By Paul Burka

During today’s Senate transportation hearing, Hegar expressed concern that the eminent domain issue might not pass the House, and that as a last resort it should be included in the TxDOT sunset bill. The disappearance of eminent domain from the radar screen is very curious. After all, this was one…

Hegar on TxDOT Sunset

May 20, 2009 By Paul Burka

I’ve been watching Senate Transportation on TV. Hegar is talking about the process: “There is a prevailing thought among the public that they want their tax dollars to be used to build roads, nothing more, nothing less. They want transparency and accountability in the agency, nothing more, nothing less.” ……

Wanted: adult supervision

May 9, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House was out of control Thursday during the debate on the TxDOT Sunset bill. The process was living proof of the old saying that there are two things you should never see being made: sausage and legislation. This was not serious lawmaking. It was an orgy--an orgy of hatred for TxDOT. Why bother to offer amendments at all? Why not just make personal privilege speeches that say, "I hate TxDOT worse than you do." "No, I hate TxDOT worse than you ever dreamed of hating them." Then vote for the person who hates TxDOT the most and let him or her write the bill. The Republicans got so caught up in the frenzy that they voted for a governance scheme that included a statewide elected chairman. Overcome by their own blood lust, they didn't stop to think that the reason the Democrats were pushing it was that they have a fighting chance to win a statewide office that has no incumbent. Phil King got it. He pointed out that the plan would have to go through preclearance with the Justice Department. That didn't slow anybody down. The governing proposal that carried the day was the Leibowitz amendment. It called for 15 commissioners, with one elected statewide and the others to be elected from the 14 Court of Appeals districts. Did anybody realize that this "reform" gives Houston two commissioners, one from the first district, one from the fourteenth? Otto, in opposition, pointed out that commissioners will be beholden to the population centers in their districts. The rural counties don't have enough population to form districts of their own, so they will inevitably be attached to urban counties. Otto said Liberty County, in his district, will be swallowed up by Houston. Actually, Liberty County is in the 9th Court of Appeals district, so it will be swallowed up by Jefferson County. The outcome, for Liberty County, is the same: the roads will be built in Jefferson County. For the umpteenth time, I was reminded that Texas politics is less about R versus D than it is about rural versus urban. For most of Texas history, the rurals prevailed, but from this point forward--and especially after the 2011 redistricting--the urbans are going win.

Governor’s critics strike again

Apr 21, 2009 By Paul Burka

This time it was on Dan Flynn's Sunset bill to abolish the Office of State-Federal Relations, which is subject to legislative oversight, and transfer the functions to the governor's office. A similar bill died last session. You cannot mention the word "governor" in the House without stirring certain members--Tommy Merritt, Lon Burnam--to action. This was no exception. Merritt: "We're taking $1.5 million that the Legislature controls and give it to the governor so he can go play around in Washington D.C." Flynn: "We streamlined operations by putting everything together and moving it to one area." Veronica Gonzalez went to the back mike to support Flynn: "These issues were vetted in committee." Heflin noted that the bill calls for the executive director to be appointed by the governor but strikes the Senate's role to advise and consent to the appointment. "Why are we opening an office of the governor in Washington? We're giving away all of our authority." Merritt again: "We transfer the power to hire lobbyists and they can work against you in your districts." Homer noted that the bill requires the governor to notify the speaker and lieutenant governor but doesn't specify where or when. Merritt: "They don't have the ability to override him." Poor Flynn was overwhelmed. Corte tried to come to the rescue: "This is about whether we are going to have representation in Washington. Regardless of who the governor is, we need someone working on our behalf." Merritt questioned Corte: "When you abolish this agency, we lose legislative oversight. Who will have this oversight?" Corte: "The governor." Oops. Not the best answer. In fact, the Legislature has oversight over the governor's office. Flynn tried to make the point that we had 34 congressmen to consult, which did not impress Democrats, many of whom have Republican congressmen who were elected following the Tom DeLay-inspired mid-census redistricting. Coleman supported Merritt's argument that the Legislature was ceding its authority: "My objection is we're moving this agency to the executive branch, and the legislative branch should not give its authority to the executive branch."