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State Senate

CHART: Texas Senate Budget Would Continue to Cut Public Education Spending Per Student

by: Katherine Haenschen

Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 08:30 AM CDT

Today, the State Senate is set to take up a budget today that spends less on public education for Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in 2012 despite student enrollment growth.

It's a step backwards for Texas and no Democrat should vote for it to come to the floor, let alone pass.

The chart below shows the raw number of students attending Texas public schools, and the state and total funding spent on these students over the last 11 years, with the next two years projected. Those two years are important because that's what the Senate budget is voting on today, and the figures in the chart reflect CSSB1, or the budget that was passed out of the Senate Finance Committee and is headed to the floor for a vote.

To put it bluntly: in the Senate budget, over the next two years the money stays flat while the students increase, so with this budget, per-student spending will continue to decline.

While our state touts $8.8 billion in "surplus" funds and $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, the state has flat-lined per-student spending. Republicans cut funds when we "don't" have money and maintain the culture of cuts when we do.

Every Democrat in the State Senate should vote against a budget that robs our Texas schools of the funding needed to provide every child with a competitive, 21st century education.

There's been a lot of rosy talk about the budget, as it adds $1.4 billion to schools while leaving another $1 billion on the table unspent.

That is simply not enough. That still means cuts of $3.9 billion to education would continue for 2014-2015 under this version of the state budget.

It also includes a Senate provision that would require Gov. Rick Perry to obtain other lawmakers' approval before trying to enlarge Medicaid -- thus potentially making it harder for the state to take advantage of the expansion provisions in the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance for some of the 28.8% of Texans who currently lack it.  

I don't care if the budget is going to pass on the backs of Republican votes -- let them own the history of cutting public education in Texas and erecting further roadblocks to expanding Medicaid.

Democrats can use the 2/3rds rule to prevent the budget from even coming to the floor for a vote -- and if they truly want to hold the line against continuing draconian cuts to public education, that's what they'll do, because in a 19-12 Republican majority Senate, letting it come to the floor is tantamount to letting it pass.

Our Texas children deserve better, and until Democrats are in power to give our public schools the funding they need, no Democrat should support passing a budget that provides less money per child over the next two years than we did in the last.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

The Legislative Session's Low Moment

by: Kirk Watson

Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 10:36 AM CST

Every session has its ups and downs, its highs and lows.

This session is no different, though the lowest point seems to have arrived early this session. It usually comes later – after short-sighted behavior, ridiculous lack of discipline, and terrible (albeit easily foreseen) outcomes.

This low point is my new high: I’m officially back to being fat.

I usually put on some serious pounds during a session. But I’ve porked up much earlier this year than ever before.

This is a session of firsts: the first time my pants have been let out before March; the first time I’ve eaten a sleeve of cookies by declaring to myself that “I deserve these” before I’ve even passed a bill out of the Senate; the first time I’ve stood behind my desk chair for a picture with a page to hide my belly (and the strained button on my coat); and the first time I’ve methodically eaten a box of beef jerky in an afternoon while telling myself it was okay since jerky has no carbs.

I’m way up, which means I’m sort of down.

A big fat falsehood

One of my biggest priorities remains ending the diversion of money that you pay for specific things like clean air, trauma care, or state parks, but that’s used instead to pay for other budget items.

I’ve written repeatedly about the dishonesty of this practice. I’ve worked session-after-session to curtail it. And I’ve even filed a proposed constitutional amendment this session to end this process with a big dose of openness and accountability.

My amendment does four things that I believe are essential to ending diversions:

  • It puts this vital decision in the hands of Texans by allowing them to vote on the amendment.
  • It enshrines these limits in the state constitution so future legislatures can’t simply write around them with a bill.
  • It creates a responsible “glide-path” that gives the legislature more than six years to end this practice.
  • It allows disciplined discretion that permits a supermajority of the House of Representatives and Senate to redirect this money, but only in the most open and transparent way possible.

I’m very proud of this legislation, but it’s not like my ideas were handed to me on a stone tablet. I’ll work with anyone, from either party, who’s willing to stop playing games and get serious about acknowledging this deep honesty deficit and what it will take to close it.

It’s time to get real

The problem, I guess, is that old habits die hard, and this is one of the oldest bad habits in the state budget. As I’ve said repeatedly, the budget is balanced with a toxic mix of debt, diversions, deception and denial, and it’s not clear that everyone’s willing to throw out those rotten crutches.

In 2001, the state diverted about $1.6 billion in dedicated funds. For the current budget, the total is about $4.95 billion, an increase of more than 200 percent. The state now diverts nearly as much in parks fees, clean air charges, utility bill surcharges and other fees as it collects in business taxes.

That $4.95 billion represents years of broken promises to Texans and spells out the size of the state’s honesty deficit. You simply can’t address this issue without at least coming up with a plan to pay down that debt or creating a mechanism to prevent budget writers from diving back into these diversions in the future.

New normal

That $4.95 billion total is a 10-figure indicator of how badly those in control of the budget have allowed this reliance on diversions to get. This isn’t a matter of just letting bygones be bygones. The legislature has to reckon with its past actions. It’s not enough to say, “We won’t let it grow any more than this.” That’s the equivalent of saying the system is too broken to fix.

It also isn’t possible to fix this deception without constitutional language ending it and a plan for paying back this debt.

Some may claim this measure of responsibility is too hard to live up to. They say they need discretion to write the budget. But “discretion,” and the abuse of it, created this problem, deep distrust among Texans, and distaste for these diversions and broken promises.

So those in control can’t simply say, “Trust us; we mean it this time.” How can anyone believe that this practice will end for more than a session or two without a constitutional provision short-circuiting it?

Besides, approaches like mine still allow some flexibility. Legislators could redirect dedicated funds with a two-thirds vote. They’d simply have to do it in the light of day, declaring fund-by-fund what they were doing and explaining why to their constituents.

That’s what I call “disciplined discretion.” It offers a real change, not just more promises. It allows taxpayers to trust the state by verifying that the legislature’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. And it requires those in control to be honest about how they’re using taxpayer dollars while still allowing them to do what they need to do to balance the budget.

These diversions have been going on for more than 20 years. They now total billions of dollars. I think Texans will be willing to trust the state with this money again, but the state is going to have to earn it.



Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Republicans May Force All State Senators to Run for Re-Election in 2014

by: Ben Sherman

Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 08:00 PM CST

Republicans are currently trying to change the Senate District 10 map, and other Senate district maps, to get rid of Democrats like Wendy Davis. What they don't realize is that any changes made to the SD 10 map will result in EVERY SINGLE STATE SENATOR RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2014. This is the result of gross Republican incompetence in the course of their outrageous gerrymandering plans. This today from the Lone Star Project:

Davis Brief Points to Risks for Republicans
Any boundary change could require ALL State Senators to run in 2014

Earlier today in a brief filed before the US District Court in San Antonio, State Senator Wendy Davis, LULAC and allied voters asked that the current Senate map, which was used in the 2012 elections, be ordered as the final remedial plan to be used for the remainder of the decade.

In the brief, Davis, LULAC and other plaintiffs make an important legal point that Texas leaders should consider before taking action to alter SD10 or any other Senate district boundary - any change made by the Legislature or the courts to the Senate map will result in ALL 31 incumbent Senators standing for re-election in 2014. The key paragraph reads:

"There is also legal authority suggesting that if the State of Texas attempts to dismantle SD10 in 2013 and impose new districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth region or otherwise attempts to replace the interim plan with a new plan, then all 31 Texas senators must stand for re-election in 2014. See Armbrister v. Morales, 943 S.W. 2d 202 (1997)."

If the current map used in the 2012 elections remains unchanged as the Davis Plaintiffs argue, only 15 or 16 Senators would stand for re-election in 2014, and those would be determined randomly by a drawing. The others would have four year terms and an extra cycle to consolidate their support and head-off strong potential challengers. Any change, however, even if it is only to Senate District 10 and adjacent Senate districts, means all Senators would be forced to gear up for potential challenges.

No incumbent truly safe
The last election demonstrated that even an incumbent sitting in a district considered safe in the general election has no assurance of re-election. The 2012 primaries had plenty of examples of perceived safe incumbents losing primary elections - Jeff Wentworth in SD25, Silvestre Reyes in CD16, Sid Miller in HD59 to name just some.

GOP efforts may well backfire
Wendy Davis has won every key redistricting battle to date, and SD10 has now performed as a minority opportunity district two elections in a row. If there are efforts by Texas Republicans to change SD10 in 2013 and defeat Wendy Davis, it could well backfire on them. Ultimately, the Court could adopt a map that makes SD10 even more Democratic and Wendy Davis safe. Meanwhile all Republican incumbents will be up for re-election and facing political risks they otherwise would have avoided.

Earlier this year, a DC Federal District Court (made up of two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee) ruled that the GOP effort to dismantle SD10 violated the US Voting Rights Act as an intentional effort to discriminate against African American and Hispanic voters. Since that ruling the Federal District Court in San Antonio has asked all parties to the litigation to file briefs suggesting what action should be taken going forward.

The most prudent course for Texas Republicans may be to take Wendy Davis' lead and ask the Court to end the Senate litigation now.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Republican State Senators Trade Nasty Personal Insults

by: Katherine Haenschen

Tue May 08, 2012 at 01:00 PM CDT

The State Senate has resembled a middle school dance more than a legislative body as of late, as two senior Republicans sent snotty emails about each other to the rest of the Senate about the hypothetical race to be interim Lieutenant Governor.  

Here's the deal. Lt. Gov David Dewhurst is running for US Senate, in case you've been in a coma or under a rock for the last few months and were unaware of this bone-chilling fact that he might soon head to DC to try to do to America what he's done to Texas. Should he win, the Senate will elect one of their own members to serve out the rest of his term. The position would be on the ballot in 2014, and has already drawn interest from a softball team worth of Republicans who want the job. (That's assuming, of course, that The Dew manages to dispatch Ted Cruz in the US Senate primary.)

Senators John Carona and Dan Patrick are both potentially interested in the job -- Carona apparently wants the interim gig, and Patrick may run for the office in the 2014 election. I guess tensions are high in the Republican caucus, since Patrick sent a snotty email about Carona to the entire State Senate, to which Carona replied in kind. The Texas Tribune and Dallas Morning News published parts of the emails:

"I was in Dallas last week and learned that Senator Carona has told people outside the Senate that Jan and I are separated and may get divorced,. He added in a few other negative comments about me in an obvious attempt by him to discredit me for some reason. He can say anything he wants to about me, but saying that Jan and I are separated and may get a divorce is not fair to her or my family." -- Sen. Dan Patrick

"Though I have heard rumors regarding your marital status and sexual preferences for a while now, at no time have I told anyone that you are either separated, divorced or gay. As you know, if you truly believed I had said something unflattering, you could have simply asked.  I've never been shy about sharing my dislike and distrust of you.  Put bluntly, I believe you are a snake oil salesman; a narcissist that would say anything to draw attention to himself." -- Sen. John Carona

According to the DMN, Patrick got the last word, describing Carona's conduct as "repulsive and unbecoming of a senator." And when Dan friggin' Patrick says your behavior is unbecoming, wow. That's a high bar. Apparently Patrick demanded an apology from Carona to him and his wife. It was unknown at press time whether Patrick then threw a glove at Carona and challenged him to a dual.

In completely and totally unrelated news, recent scientific research has demonstrated that homophobia can result from the suppression of same-sex desire. No wonder Republicans keep trying to de-fund research universities.

Meanwhile, though nobody asked Harold Cook for comment, he freely supplied one on his Twitter feed yesterday:

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Jeff Wentworth: Media Mogul and Pyramid King?

by: ProgressiveInTexas

Sun Aug 16, 2009 at 11:40 AM CDT

On Friday August 14, the San Antonio Express News published the following article about the esteemed State Senator from District 25:

Sen. Wentworth is linked to Web pyramid scheme  (Follow the link and read the entire article, post comments and pass it on)

Two items of note:

"BurnLounge is operating a pyramid scheme. Such schemes have an intolerable capacity to mislead," the FTC said in its lawsuit.

"That's news to me," Wentworth said Thursday.

What was it that surprised Jeff?  Was he surprised that BurnLounge was a scam or that he got caught?  One would think that a competent attorney and proficient legislator could discern the difference between a legitimate investment and a fraudulent scheme.

According to the interview, Wentworth said he was brought into BurnLounge by a lobbyist for the Texas Automobile Dealers Association.

This raises three questions:

Did this lobbyist also make a substantial donation to Jeff's war chest?

What other lobbyists bought "memberships" from Jeff?

What else does Jeff do for Lobbyists without reading the fine print?

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

The Fringe Republican Grassroots Own Dewhurst, the Texas GOP

by: Phillip Martin

Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:53 PM CST

The text of the resolution.

There is no moderation for Texas Republicans. They continue losing elections, nationally and here in Texas, but Senator Dan Patrick remains the most powerful person in the Texas Senate. Texans care more and more about pocketbook issues that Democrats continue to talk about, but people like Senator Williams -- who was also responsible for the margins tax bill in 2006 -- passed a resolution to make voter ID legislation the single top priority for their party.

He even admitted as much. In today's debate, he said at the 1:20:50 mark of the Senate video:

Senator West: Is this more important than dealing with tuition deregulation?

Senator Williams: Senator West, I believe that it is.

Dewhurst is a coward, Dan Patrick is way too powerful, and we've now seen exactly how pathetic Republicans in the State Senate really are. Dan Patrick, who is now in his second session, just came in and owned them. All of them. None of them have any courage, none of them have any common sense, and all of them are scared of one man with a megaphone. Amazing.

All praise to the Senate Democrats, who did great work today.

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

I'm coming to you BOR

by: not humble enough

Wed Nov 05, 2008 at 08:09 PM CST

It has happened!  Obama won.  Now that national politics is taking care of I'm coming here to begin my state's revival. I used to spend all my time on Dailykos but now I want to get into the action here.  Not that I've been ignorant, I block walked for a few weeks in a local state house race (VICTORY!) cause I know what that means.

I also have a different login but I forgot what it was.

Let's change texas!

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Senator Ellis files Bill to stop the Violence in Darfur

by: Sam Jones

Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 05:34 PM CST

State Senator Rodney Ellis filed a bill Wednesday to put an end to state pension investments for businesses that deal with the Sudanese Government. 

According to the Senate website: 

Senator Rodney Ellis filed a bill Wednesday that he says would pressure the Sudanese government to stop the genocide being committed in the Darfur region of that country. Senate Bill 247, the "Stop Darfur Genocide Act" would prohibit state pension funds, notably the Teachers and Employees Retirement System funds, from investing in companies that do business with the Sudanese government, and require them to divest funds already invested with these companies. Ellis said that economic pressure is the best way for Texas to affect the domestic policy of the Sudan. "This targeted disinvestment approach will maximize the impact to the Sudanese government, while minimizing harms to the Sudanese citizens and investment returns," said Ellis.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

The "Stop the Darfur Genocide Act," filed by Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis and Republican Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, both of Houston, claims broad-based support, uniting liberal advocates with social conservatives.

"It's such a compelling case that's killed more than 400,000 people and displaced 2.5 million," Ellis said Tuesday of the 4-year-old strife, which the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

"The U.S. government has declared these ongoing atrocities to be genocide," Ellis said. "One would be hard-pressed not to understand the moral implications of being on the wrong side of calling for divestment."

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 481 words in story)

Senator Gallegos in 'Stable Condition' after liver Transplant

by: Sam Jones

Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 09:47 AM CST

State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Mario Gallegos underwent a liver transplant Friday.  According to the Quorum Report, the operation was a success and the Senator is in good condition.

The following is a statement from Dr. Joseph Galati, Gallegos' physician, regarding Senator Gallegos' surgery and subsequent condition:

"After Senator Gallegos' liver transplant was completed late Friday evening, he was making the progress we would have anticipated over the weekend, and this morning is resting comfortably in stable condition. As we had expected, the surgery went well, without complications.

"Assuming unanticipated complications do not arise, I would project that Senator Gallegos can expect a smooth recovery, and that this procedure will be a very good next step in his recovery.

According to The Statesman, Senator Gallegos has been absent from the Capitol in anticipation of the surgery since last week and will need at least 18 additional days to recover.

We at BOR celebrate the operation's success and would like to express our warmest wishes to the Senator for a speedy and full recovery.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Sen. Gallegos to Receive New Liver

by: Matt Glazer

Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:11 PM CST

As we welcome new writers at BOR, we must also wish Senator Mario Gallegos safe travels home and our best wishes.

According to the Statesman Online, the recently elected Speaker pro tempore of the state Senate has begun the process to have major surgery.

After a year of recovery, Senator Gallegos has been advised that he is in need of a new liver.

My physician has placed me on a waiting list to be a recipient for a liver transplant. He has long anticipated this possibility ever since I became sober almost a year ago. He and I have worked hard together to ensure that I would be in the best possible health, either to prevent the necessity for such a procedure, or to make sure that I would be a strong recipient for the organ in the event the procedure became necessary.

Because of the timing and the seriousness of the surgery, Sen. Gallegos has been advised by his doctors to stay in Houston for the time being and will need at least 18 days of recovery time after surgery.

This will bring the Senate down to 30, and Democrats will have exactly 1/3 of the membership in the western chamber.

We wish the Senator, his family, friends, and staff the best of luck.

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

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