This past week the Texas House passed a $210 billion dollar budget with a 141 – 5 vote. The debate clocked in at over 17 hours and was one of the longer House budget debates in recent history. However, this House budget floor meeting was also one of the most peaceful ones.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of talk about abstinence, feral hogs, and horse racing, but overall the tone of the debate was quite civil. The disagreements did not always fall along partisan lines; it was more representative of each member’s district.
Generally the House budget writing process is a time for partisan bickering and showmanship, a promising spectator sport since the House is uniquely suited for it, but this time something really interesting happened, there was very little to no drama on the House floor last week. Why?
Well one of my favorite analogies and a great example of how a partisan thing was simply allowed to become a “will of the House vote” where members can vote their districts and what not is an amendment offered up by Rep. Bryan Hughes. If you don’t know Rep. Hughes he’s a Republican from Mineola. He’s not a Tea Party Republican but he’s a Christian True Believer kind of Republican, and a pretty nice guy.
His amendment would have amended the budget saying that no state transportation dollars could go towards funding commuter rail projects. This had exceptions to a project in Dallas which was within his district. This did not affect current rail projects either, just future ones. Well, Rep. Sylvester Turner, (who’s running currently running for the Mayor of Houston) just had to call this out, and rightfully so. So Rep. Turner added on an amendment creating an exception for metropolitan areas (essentially any locality that would use state money for commuter rail) and he that amendment to the amendment passed, because the members voted their districts. Once this provision changed the original Hughes amendment ineffective Rep. Hughes withdrew his amendment.
This a great example of what could have possibly been a partisan issue was simply left to the will of the House, and because the process works and the process matters, bad legislation died. This in contrast to the Senate tax cut debate a few weeks ago where barely any amendments were even considered or thoughtfully debated because the result on that side is sadly a foregone partisan conclusion.
Last but not least, a bill that would move the Public Integrity Unit out of the locally elected Travis County DA’s office to the Texas Rangers moved out of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics along party lines.
Republicans’ justification for wanting to move this unit out of the Travis County DA’s office is because the investigative and prosecution process has gotten too “political.” Oddly enough when you look around and realize you’re the only party in power it takes some serious mental gymnastics to follow the logic of moving an investigative office that could possibly investigate you one day into one you essentially control, but I digress.
I’ll leave you with a tweet from Statesman Reporter Chuck Lindell where he quotes Assistant Travis County District Attorney Gregg Cox commenting on how the appearance that the Public Integrity Unit investigations are somehow politicized:
Gregg Cox, Travis County Public Integrity Unit: Of 21 elected officials indicted, 15 were Democrats, six Rs. #txlege
— Chuck Lindell (@chucklindell) March 26, 2015
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to reflect that the the Senate debated the tax cuts last month, and not the budget.