#txlege Update: Committee Assignments, The Business of Governing, and the Franchise Tax

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This week the Texas Legislature brought us House committee assignments from Speaker Straus – signaling an inclusive and participatory tone for what’s left of the 116 something days of the legislative session. Democrats fared well with these assignments, and by well I mean their chairmanships and placement is simply proportional to their numbers in the House — which doesn’t say much. Still it’s a bit better than Dan Patrick’s tea party Senate where he shuts out all but two Democrats as chairmen (yes, men).

The Straus committee assignments remind observers that Straus is elected by the membership of the body he rules, not the entire Texas electorate — or Republican primary runoff voters, for that matter.

Straus’s committee appointments signal that Straus prefers to wield his power by simply empowering the members to actually govern – not alienate them along party lines. This is no doubt a wise move. As history has shown us the Texas House of Representatives is actually more of a self-governing, deliberative body than perhaps some have given it credit for.

Straus came about when Tom Craddick’s dictatorial type of rule was too much for members (Republicans and Democrats alike) to bear. So the House picked Straus to lead them and now the Speaker from San Antonio still stands, and has outlasted the former Speaker (but current Dean of the House) by a full session now.

If Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took his general election victory as a mandate for partisanship and to exclude Democrats, Straus took his re-election from the body he governs as a mandate for bipartisanship and inclusive government.

Back in the tea party controlled Senate — the Finance Committee met each day this week (except Friday) still intent by brand new leadership on fast-tracking a budget for one of the largest economies in the world. Because tax cuts (for business only, homeowners need not apply). I don’t know what could possibly go wrong here.

Alongside the legislative drama in the pink dome were a few footnotes regarding our new governor. This week while addressing the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Governor Greg Abbott promised to veto any budget that didn’t include tax cuts for businesses. According to the Texas Tribune’s Jay Root, Abbott said, “It is a proven fact that if we lower or get rid of the business franchise tax, that is the best way to create new jobs in the state of Texas.”

Wrong Governor. The best way to create jobs in the state of Texas is to fund the schools in the state of Texas.

First things first: the business franchise tax was created in the first place to address an inequity in our Texas school finance system that basically overburdens property taxpayers. By the way, even though Republicans have been in charge of literally every facet of state government here in Texas for over ten years they still haven’t remotely even tried to fix school finance yet, and this statement from Abbott is no great sign that he’s interested in an equitable solution.

The franchise tax was created for businesses to chip in to help fund education — because property taxpayers were paying well over their fair share. Now if Greg Abbott has his way this leaves the property taxpayer, the public school student, and the Texas economy, in quite a lurch. (No worries, school choice to the rescue! Coming to a rich neighborhood probably not near you).

Greg Abbott also this week shifted around a lot Ricky Perry’s old economic development funds eliminating the Emerging Technologies Fund and moving the Major Events Trust Fund and three others from the Comptroller’s office to his own. I guess every governor has the right to personalize their very own slush funds.

The next week will bring about the first House committee meetings and some Senate committees as well. Until next time I will leave y’all with a quote another state legislator not quite from Texas, Horace Mann.

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”

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About Author

Chaille Jolink

Chaille Jolink was born and raised in Austin, Texas and has more than a decade of experience working in Texas politics. Her interest began when she was a Senate Messenger in 2003, and she's since worked for several different legislators and candidates. She started reporting in 2007 for GalleryWatch.com, and has been a contributor to several different publications. Chaille is a graduate of the University of Texas and enjoys fashion, baseball, and playing any team sport. Chaille tweets @ChailleMcCann.

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