Texas house


Apr 1, 2015 By Erica Grieder

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

Railroad Commissioner Reluctantly Resigns

Feb 14, 2012 By Jason Cohen

Elizabeth Ames Jones is running for a San Antonio senate seat, but must live in the "capital of the State" to stay Railroad Commissioner. People laughed when she questioned the phrase, but does she have a point about its modern definition?

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.

No Peña, No Gain

Apr 30, 2011 By Patricia Hart

Was Aaron Peña’s defection to the Republican party a quixotic move that will cost him his political career or the start of a bad trend for Democrats?

R.G.’s Take: What the Lean House Budget Bill Means for State Employees

Mar 28, 2011 By R.G. Ratcliffe

(Editor’s note: Every week, for the remainder of the legislative session, BurkaBlog will be publishing an original column by R.G. Ratcliffe, who was the state political reporter for the Houston Chronicle for twenty years. During those two decades, I’ve known R.G., who resigned from the Chronicle in February to work on a book, to be one of the most trusted voices in the Capitol press corps. I’m thrilled to have him posting here. His columns will offer a deeper take on one of the week’s top stories. –P.B.) This session’s budget crunch has turned into a twisted episode of "The Biggest Loser," the reality television show in which overweight contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight. At the Capitol, the question is, which parts of our state budget will lose the most money in the plans being floated to bridge the $27 billion shortfall. Who will be our biggest loser? Most of the attention has been on teachers, children, and the elderly in nursing homes. Rallies at the capitol and heavy coverage on the nightly news about the impending disaster these groups could face from state cuts have put them at the forefront of the debate. But as the House prepares to vote on a bare bones available-revenue-only proposal next week, there’s another, more often overlooked contestant on the show—Texas’ 154,000 state employees, many of whom could face effective wage cuts of up to 40 percent under current Texas budget plans. Who are these folks? Well, they are child protection caseworkers, prison guards, tax auditors and rank and file bureaucrats. They work for the government. In a staunchly fiscal conservative, Tea Party world, these employees are often viewed skeptically.

Watching paint dry

May 22, 2009 By Paul Burka

How else to describe the pace of House debate? I can’t recall another session when the default option was for both parties to chub every bill. The debate over the unemployment insurance bill was particularly dilatory. Why is this bill even being debated? Rick Perry has drawn his line in…

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.

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 Speaker’s Race: Shock and Awful

Dec 1, 2008 By Paul Burka

Things are about to get ugly in the speaker’s race. The Craddick forces, led by several longtime loyalists (I want to run another check on the names), are trying to stir up a coordinated campaign to put pressure on wavering colleagues to vote for Craddick. According to credible reports I…

Wisdom of Solomons

Nov 18, 2008 By Eileen Smith

Putting on my best faux-reporter voice, I called Rep. Solomons to find out why he would be so crazy as to run for Speaker. I wanted to give him the opportunity that we gave to the other 140 candidates to send along an Official Declaration of Intent. Solomons noted that…

The Speaker’s Race: The McHaig letter

Oct 25, 2008 By Paul Burka

With Election Day quickly approaching, it has become clear to many conservatives that a Democratic takeover of the Texas House of Representatives is a very real possibility. What was once a 26-seat Republican majority in 2003 has dwindled to an eight-seat majority today, and that number will almost certainly shrink…

Optimism abounds in the battle for control of the House

Oct 24, 2008 By Paul Burka

I have asked Democratic insiders how their slate of candidates will fare in races for the House of Representatives. Their answer is that the D’s will pick up one to three seats, with a possibility of winning enough seats to capture control of the House. I have asked Republican insiders…

The Predictor

Oct 14, 2008 By Paul Burka

I learned today about a method of analyzing House races that may be able to predict winners (no warranties, expressed or implied) in close races for the Texas House of Representatives. The idea is to determine whether Democrats have a chance to win certain races, based on primary turnout of…