Archive for May, 2013

Budget talks stall over education funding

We may learn more about where the state budget is headed this afternoon. First, Republican Gov. Rick Perry will attend a ceremony at about 2:15 p.m. to sign the Michael Morton Act. It’s possible the governor will also take the opportunity to comment on the budget negotiations that continued this morning. The conference committee tasked with finalizing the budget is meeting at 2 p.m., after which an announcement is expected.

According to Harvey Kronberg with the Quorum Report, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, the lone Democratic House member on the conference committee, said Republicans have gone back on an agreement to add almost $4 billion to education, instead changing that offer to $3.5 billion. Meantime, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus indicated that there may not be enough room to get the $3.9 billion for education Democrats want due to the spending cap.

Of course, also part of the equation is bringing House and Senate members of both parties together on a plan to draw $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund for water relief. The same budget negotiations involve a complex mix of legislation that would put approval of a revolving fund for the water money before voters, thus avoiding a budgetary conflict with the spending cap.

We expect to have Rep. Turner on this evening’s Capital Tonight to shed more light on the back-and-forth among conference committee members.

Capital Tonight: Budgets, demographics and DC scandals

The state’s top budget writers have been meeting behind closed doors, hammering out the final details on a two-year plan. Tuesday, we got word that lawmakers are tentatively set on $2 billion dollar water plan, but money for transportation and education remain up in the air.

MALC Turns 40

The country’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus is turning 40. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus celebrated Wednesday with a free concert at the Capitol, but a birthday wasn’t the only thing members celebrated. A new poll hints that the Latino vote could easily overcome the Republican margin of victory, but not every MALC member sees it that clearly.

IRS Scandal

President Barack Obama has announced that the head of the Internal Revenue Service will be resigning, in the wake of a scandal involving the specific targeting of Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.

Sen. John Cornyn appeared on the show to talk about that and more.

‘Progress Texas’ says conservatives weren’t only targets of IRS scrutiny

A progressive Texas group is speaking out tonight over the scandal surrounding the Internal Revenue Service. Progress Texas, a left-leaning political group, says conservatives were not the only ones subject to extra scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. But Progress Texas doesn’t take issue with the way the process was conducted.

Acting IRS director Steven Miller submitted his resignation today at the request of the White House. The agency came under fire this week for holding up tax exempt applications for groups that had words like “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names. Officials admitted that requests submitted by those groups were inappropriately singled out.

Progress Texas said its 501c tax exempt status was also subject to extra scrutiny and that they received a letter similar to the ones sent to Tea Party organizations. Progress Texas provided Capital Tonight with a copy of the nine-page request. In it, the IRS asks for details on everything from financial statements to meeting minutes and members’ political affiliations.

Progress Texas submitted its initial tax-exemption request in March of 2011. A year later, the IRS requested the addition information and tax exempt status was not approved until June of 2012. The organization says it “supports the due diligence” taken by the IRS and recognizes the government was handling a large influx of 501c applications at the time.

Executive Director Ed Espinoza released this statement today:

“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government. Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”

More >

Online Exclusive: Cornyn talks immigration reform details

As immigration talks continue in Washington, Sen. John Cornyn is weighing in on his requirements for a comprehensive reform bill.

He spoke to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown about a rejected amendment that would have required more spending on border patrol.

Click the image below to hear Sen. Cornyn’s response. You can watch the rest of the interview at 7 p.m. on Capital Tonight.

Capital Tonight: Comptroller weighs in on budget numbers

Now that the House and Senate appear to have reached a deal on water and education funding, State Comptroller Susan Combs is weighing in on the process. In Tuesday’s episode, we spoke to Combs about how the session is shaping up and more.

Click the image below to see the full interview, plus updates on the Michael Morton Act, campus carry and the latest from Washington.

Combs hints at plans for lieutenant governor race

For the first time, State Comptroller Susan Combs is offering some hints as to her future political plans. Combs’ name has often been mentioned as a possible candidate for lieutenant governor. Until now, she has maintained that she is focused on the current legislative session and the job at hand.

That all changed Tuesday. In an interview with Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown, Combs stopped just short of confirming she is indeed planning a run for lieutenant governor. She said,

“I think anybody that runs for office has to consult their family. So my husband and I are going to go to the ranch in Big Bend in about two weeks and have a heart-to-heart chat about what it is we want to do together. And then I will announce it right there after.”

If she does decide to run, Combs would face off in a primary against other big name Republicans including sitting Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

You can watch our full interview on Capital Tonight, live at 7 p.m.

Michael Morton Act headed for governor’s desk

In a unanimous vote and with little debate, House lawmakers capped off a string of legislative victories for a man wrongfully convicted nearly three decades ago.

Senate Bill 1611 passed out of the House on final reading with a vote of 146-0. It would create a uniform “open file” policy that compels prosecutors across the state to share case files with defense attorneys. Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine Morton. He was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.

Sen. John Whitmire’s Senate Bill 825 also passed out of the House Monday. It extends the window in which exonerated prisoners can file a grievance against a prosecutor to four years after their release from prison.

Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign both bills into law. A Perry spokesman said Monday that the governor “supports efforts to open up discovery during criminal cases.”

Lawmakers strike hybrid deal on water funding

The House and Senate have overcome a major hurdle in budget negotiations at the State Capitol. Namely, they’ve come to an agreement on how to allocate $2 billion dollars to pay for water infrastructure projects. The deal puts to rest what had been shaping up to be a showdown between the two chambers over the best way to tackle the state’s water woes.

“We will put a bow on this, tomorrow,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts said.

The Senate had approved a constitutional amendment that would require voters to authorize dipping $5.7 billion dollars into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (better known as the Rainy Day Fund). Two billion dollars of that money was earmarked for water projects. House Speaker Joe Straus came out against that plan last week, saying the decision needed to be made by lawmakers, not “punted to the voters.”

The compromise would call for voters to approve an amendment establishing a dedicated water fund. Lawmakers, not voters, would then approve the $2 billion dip into the Rainy Day Fund. “We insisted that we were not going to start doing a referendum type of government here in Texas like they do in California,” Pitts said. “We were elected, 150 members over here, 31 members over, there to make these decisions.”

This deal does not address transportation funding. Rep. Pitts said Monday that there are still other ways to make that happen. He also said they plan to have an agreement on education later in the day. The details are expected to be laid out tomorrow.


Capital Tonight: House approves disclosure bill after Senate stumbles

The Texas House is proving to be more successful in passing a transparency bill than their Senate counterparts, even through the bill originated in the upper chamber.

Senate Bill 346 requires some tax-exempt, politically active organizations to disclose certain donors. The bill would crack down on what supporters call political “dark money.” While the Senate initially approved it, they recalled the bill a day later after some said it was a violation of free speech.

Legislative Roadblocks

With less than two weeks to go before the official end of session, lawmakers have yet to pass any bills dealing with water or transportation funding. We spoke with Republican Rep. Drew Darby about why those two priorities remain stalled, and where the House can go from here.

Gun Rights Rally

Unloaded weapons in hand, gun rights advocates circled around the State Capitol Monday, trying to get the attention of legislators one more time. Their goal: to get laws allowing greater rights to carry guns openly and on campus signed by the governor.

Click the logo below for the full story, plus political analysis from the Quorum Report Harvey Kronberg.

Budget committee takes steps to restore CPRIT funding

The state’s top cancer fighting agency appears to be back in lawmakers’ good graces.

Members of the conference committee on the budget have agreed to restore more than $594 million in funding to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The organization has been under fire since last year, when the approval of a grant worth $11 million came into question, sparking a criminal investigation. Funding for CPRIT was cut in the Legislature’s original budget proposals.

The restoration of funds is contingent on the passage of Senate Bill 149, however. Sen. Jane Nelson’s bill would ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients and create a new oversight position to make sure agency rules are followed.

She released a statement today, saying:

“I am grateful to the conference committee for allowing CPRIT to move forward and approving these funds. I was very disappointed in the poor decision making and mistakes that came to light this session, but believe we must keep up our fight against cancer. SB 149, which was approved by the House Public Health Committee last week, will ensure CPRIT operates in a transparent and accountable way in the future and that these issues will be solved. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support CPRIT during this time. I am looking forward to a bright future for the Institute.”