Posted: Jan 14, 2013 4:58 PM
Updated: Jan 14, 2013 4:58 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Deep spending cuts to public schools remain while about $5.5 billion is left on the table under first budget drafts unveiled Monday by majority Republicans in the Texas Legislature, who called the bills careful starting points that limit spending and will likely amplify their calls for tax relief.
Both the House and Senate are also opening budget talks with no new money for the state's beleaguered $3 billion cancer-fighting effort, further clouding the future of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas as the agency reels under a criminal investigation.
Critics pounced on the lean proposals as tantamount to more spending cuts on top of the nearly $15 billion lawmakers chopped in 2011. Republicans proudly emphasized that their proposals fund public school enrollment growth for an estimated 170,000 new students in 2014-15, but some budget observers argued that math only works if Texas once again decreases per-student spending.
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate bill ensures that a roaring Texas economy will keep adding jobs.
"To maintain that opportunity, we need to make sure to keep our spending under control, fund our priorities and keep our taxes low," Dewhurst said.
The House budget bill comes in at $89.1 billion and the Senate's at $88.9 billion. Both are expected to be filed Tuesday, and the nitty-gritty details of the proposals were not immediately released.
When lawmakers returned to the Capitol last week for a new session, they were greeted with a sunny $101.4 billion revenue forecast to spend on the next two-year budget. Coupled with a nearly $12 billion projected balance sitting in the Rainy Day Fund, teachers and Democrats were hopeful of restoring if not all then at least some of the $5.4 billion cut from classroom spending in 2011.
But Gov. Rick Perry made clear last week there were no promises to roll back any of those reductions, and the budget bills unveiled Monday appeared to deliver on that warning.
The budget proposals are significant but are merely a starting point for negotiations between now and May a fact underscored even by the Republicans who introduced the bills. Dewhurst, for instance, left the door open for budget-writers to go back and fund CPRIT if lawmakers are able to beef up oversight and restore confidence in the troubled cancer agency.
Democrats recognized the bills as a first draft, too, but that didn't blunt their frustration.
"I'm disappointed the first draft of the budget continues the historic education cuts," Democratic Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio said.
TEA PARTY LAWMAKERS LOSE BATTLES FOR RULES CHANGES
Attempts by tea party-allied lawmakers to make major changes to how the Texas House operates have failed.
Speaker Joe Straus definitively defeated his foes on the far-right over parliamentary rules that would have weakened his power to make committee assignments and control the flow of proposed laws, to include making sure some are lost in committee for eternity. Democrats also lost most of their efforts to keep rules that allow them some say in the lawmaking process.
Tea party ally Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, saw his proposed rule changes repeatedly shot down. He wanted to automatically expel convicted felons from the House, force committee chairs to hold hearings on popular bills and forbid rewriting a bill so much that it was fundamentally different from when it was first proposed.
In one small victory, he passed a rule that requires every bill that raises taxes or fees to say so in the bill's caption, or its full name.
Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, proposed a rule that if more than half of lawmakers co-author a bill, it does not have to go through the normal committee process, an important demand by tea party-aligned lawmakers. Veteran lawmakers from both parties argued against the bill saying it bypassed the public lawmaking process and lawmakers dismissed it 137-11.
Another proposed rule change would have required any bill to cite the portion of the Texas Constitution that authorizes the action. Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, proposed the measure in his first speech on the House floor, but saw it shot down on a voice vote.
Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, proposed a rule requiring the House to follow the actual time rather than legislative time, which often stops when needed to make sure important legislation passes. The proposal was roundly defeated after senior Republican lawmaker derided the new rule as an unnecessary restriction on the already limited 140-day legislative session.
He also failed to gain support for making conference committee meetings at the end of session more transparent. In the final hours of the session, conference committees meet in private to hammer out deals to get bills passed without much oversight.
Straus emerged from the debate more powerful than ever. Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, introduced a bill that would give him the power to overrule parliamentary motions to kill bills based on errors he considers harmless. Democrats and some conservative Republicans opposed the rule because it would give the speaker too much power to overrule them when they use the rules to block bills they oppose.
The rule passed in a 96-54 vote along party lines, taking away a tool Democrats used effectively last session.
George P. Bush has raised more than $1.3 million in the barely eight weeks since he announced he would run for office in Texas.
Campaign manager Trey Newton said late Monday that a report showing Bush took in $1,350,489 would be submitted the following day to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Bush hasn't decided which office he will seek next year, but he's leaning toward land commissioner.
His first contribution came from his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for $50,000. His uncle, former President George W. Bush, also contributed $50,000.
In all, there were 449 contributions from 29 states.
Some 65 percent of Bush's contributions came from Texas, while donations from Florida accounted for 26 percent.
That means another 9 percent came from the rest of the country.
CHAIRMAN PROMISES FUNDING FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION ENROLLMENT GROWTH
A powerful committee chairman has promised to provide funding for an increase in public school enrollment over the next two years.
Texas adds about 80,000 new public school students a year. When the Legislature last met in 2011, they did not provide funding for new students and cut $5.4 billion in school funding. Democrats have made restoring school funding a major priority this year and proposed setting a rule Monday requiring the House to fund school growth.
The rule proposed by Houston Democrat Armando Walle was voted down, but Waxahachie Republican Jim Pitts, who chairs the appropriations committee, said during debate that he would introduce a budget bill on Tuesday that would increase school funding at least as much as is required to pay for school growth.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"This bill will allow the House to have an open, thorough, and transparent debate about appropriate funding levels for education, infrastructure, and services for the citizens of this state." House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, on announcing his budget bill.