Archive for July, 2017

Ponzi Schemes and Cooking the Books: Special Session Edition

The special session of the 85th Texas Legislature begins on Tuesday. And for those thinking the division between the House and Senate might have subsided, think again.


During a news conference Thursday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick laid out a plan to tap the Texas lottery to pay for teacher bonuses. He wants to spend $700 million each year in lottery revenue to give veteran teachers a boost.

Patrick says the lottery raises about $1 billion yearly for education. His plan would force school districts to use most of that on pay bumps for teachers with at least six years of experience, and retirees with more than 20 years.

The proposal would require a change to the Texas Constitution, meaning voters would have to approve it.


But Patrick also called out House Speaker Joe Straus at least 15 times during the news conference.


“I want to emphasize this is a serious plan, which is different from what Speaker Straus laid out during the regular session and continues to talk about,” Patrick said. “That was nothing more than an education Ponzi scheme.”


What Straus and fellow Republicans championed was a plan to pump $1.6 billion additional dollars into public schools.


Public school advocates also backed the House plan.


They aren’t so sure about what Patrick is proposing and argue the state needs to better invest in public education.


“Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sudden, newfound interest in teachers and retired teachers is as hollow as the governor’s $1000 teacher pay raise because neither is willing to make a genuine commitment to investing state funds in public education,” Noel Candelaria, Texas State Teachers Association President, said.


Gov. Greg Abbott has called on lawmakers to increase teacher pay by $1000 annually during the special session, but there’s no extra state budget funding.


Gov. Abbott applauded Patrick’s plan. “My office has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time,” Abbott said.


Patrick also said he supports all 20 bills the governor has put on the call and jabbed Straus for not.


“We’ve already passed 10 of those out of the Senate. They were killed by the Speaker,” Patrick said. “I believe the House can pass 20 for 20 as well if they ever get a chance to vote for them on the floor.”


Straus put out this statement in response to Patrick’s plan:

“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform. Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session.”


The feud between the leaders of the House and Senate that boiled over during the regular session has only been enhanced with comments and appearances during their short break.


Both have blamed each other for killing bills and causing a special session.


Patrick’s Ponzi scheme comment Thursday follows a similar jab from Straus during the regular session when the upper chamber used an accounting trick to delay a payment to the state highway fund to balance the budget.

He called it “cooking the books” and criticized Senators for not wanting to tap into the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to help in lean times.


The special session begins Tuesday.


Posted by Karina Kling




Daily Digest: July 12

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Who will challenge Gov. Abbott?

Governor Greg Abbott is expected to officially announce his reelection bid on Friday. It’s set to take place in San Antonio, in the same spot he unveiled his original gubernatorial bid exactly four years ago.

But the burning question: who is going to run against him? No Democrat has expressed any interest so far.

Tonight we take a look at the Democratic possibilities and ask the Texas Democratic Party — what’s up?


Redistricting Trial Day 3:

The legal battle over the state’s political maps continues today in San Antonio federal court. The focus today has turned to the state’s congressional maps.


Trump/Russia Probe:

Texas Republican lawmakers are keeping relatively quiet on those emails released by Donald Trump, Jr. in which he appeared eager to accept information from the Russian government that could have damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Democrats, meanwhile, are calling it proof of collusion with Russia. Our DC reporter Alberto Pimienta will have reaction from Texas lawmakers in Washington.


Political Analysts:

And our political analysts, Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi, will be in to give their take on 2018, redistricting and Trump, Jr.



It’s stood tall over the Texas State Capitol building for nearly 100 years. And now, the ‘Goddess of Liberty’ statue is getting some TLC at its new home in the Bullock Museum. Check out the up close features on the 16 feet tall, 3000 pound statue on Capital Tonight.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7pm on Spectrum News. Join us for these stories and more tonight at 7!


Posted by Karina Kling



Daily Digest: July 11

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Redistricting Trial Day 2:

The legal battle over Texas’ political maps continues in court. On day two of the state’s redistricting trial, plaintiffs argued about a lack of legislative process when redrawing some boundary lines in 2013.

One of the people testifying today was State Rep. Eric Johnson. Johnson’s a black Democrat from Dallas. He told the 3-judge panel that in 2013, when lawmakers were redrawing maps under a court order, there was no real process to provide input. According to lawyers defending Mr. Johnson and other minority voters, here’s why:

“No one in leadership reached out to the African-American representatives, to the Latino representatives and said, ‘how do we fix this?’” Allison Riggs, Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney, said.

For the first time in the trial, state attorneys argued the maps could have been drawn with partisan motivation rather than racial ones. The US Supreme Court has ruled that’s not necessarily unconstitutional.

John Salazar will have the latest on the trial tonight at 7 p.m.


We’ll also be joined by former state representative Trey Martinez Fischer. He testified yesterday in the trial.


Trump/Russia Probe:

We’ll have the latest on the Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with Russian attorneys, plus reaction from lawmakers in Washington.


Local Control:

“Man your special session battle stations.” That’s the message from the Texas Municipal League heading into next week’s lawmaker overtime.

About half of Governor Abbott’s list for the special session include local control issues, or matters that cities, counties and school districts oversee or play a role in handling.

From how cities collect property taxes and set budgets, to regulating land use and restricting access to bathrooms, such topics are set to dominate debate.

“I call it the goldilocks form of government,” Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said. “The federal government is big and bad, cities are small and bad and somehow the state gets it just right? That can’t possibly be the case. Cities are to the state what the state is to the federal government. We’re the laboratory of democracy. Every city is different and citizens like that.”

Tune in for Sandlin’s full interview.


Capital Tonight airs weeknights at 7 p.m.


Posted by Karina Kling



More >

Daily Digest: July 10 – Redistricting

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Redistricting Trial Day 1:

Texas’ redistricting trial began today in federal court in San Antonio. Three federal judges are hearing a week’s worth of testimony centered on whether the state intentionally discriminated against minorities when drawing Texas political maps in 2011. The timing of the trial is critical. The 2018 elections are just around the corner and if the judges side with the plaintiffs, it could shake up races across the state.



In 2011, Texas lawmakers drew new political boundaries. It happens every ten years after census data comes out. But the way the Republican-controlled Legislature drew the maps angered minority rights groups who called the new state and congressional maps discriminatory toward black and Latino voters. That led to a court drawing temporary maps that were used for the 2012 elections. In 2013, lawmakers adopted those maps and that’s what the state has been using ever since.


But then, this spring the federal judges ruled that three of Texas’ 36 congressional districts were drawn illegally. The judges also ruled that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities when crafting them.


The Arguments:

The state says it didn’t target Texas voters by race, but does admit it drew maps in a partisan way. It wants the legal challenge dismissed. Minority rights groups continue to argue the 2013 maps were meant to be temporary and should be redrawn because they don’t address all of the concerns first raised with the 2011 maps.



The trial is expected to last through Friday or Saturday. It’s unclear when the judges will rule.


We’ll have a full report on day 1 of the trial from San Antonio with John Salazar at 7pm.

Matt Angle, director of Texas’ Lone Star Project, will also be joining us from San Antonio to discuss why his group is pushing for the maps to be redrawn.


Special Session Proclamation:

Governor Greg Abbott has now officially called state lawmakers back to Austin for a special session. Abbott’s formal proclamation today means the Legislature will reconvene next Tuesday at 10am.

For now, the governor only asked lawmakers to extend operations of the Texas Medical Board and other state agencies set to expire this fall. Lawmakers failed to do so during the regular session that ended in May.

Once that so-called sunset legislation is passed, Abbott has promised to include 19 other priorities for the 30-day special session. Those include a private school voucher proposal, school finance reform and anti-abortion measures.


Bathroom Bill:

The so-called bathroom bill is also part of that long list of special session items. Our Max Gorden will have the story of one family fighting back against the measure.


Join us for these stories and the latest out of Washington tonight on Capital Tonight at 7pm.


Posted by Karina Kling


Daily Digest: July 6

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Voter ID law:

The Trump administration says Texas has fixed any discriminatory effects of its Voter ID law. The Justice Department is now asking a judge to not take further action. The DOJ under former President Obama had previously joined minority rights groups in challenging the 2011 law. But the new administration told the judge that Texas lawmakers fixed the measure in May by adopting a weaker version. The judge has twice ruled that the original law intentionally discriminated against minorities. We’ll have reaction from both sides tonight at 7pm.



While groups are protesting the proposed health care bill outside of Sen. John Cornyn’s Austin office, Sen. Ted Cruz will be holding a town hall to discuss the issue tonight at 6pm. Earlier today, Cruz told a San Antonio radio station he didn’t know if the Senate could pass the bill.

“It is precarious,” Cruz said. He added the GOP’s Senate majority “is so narrow, I don’t know if we can get it done or not.”

Capital Tonight host Karina Kling will also be sitting down with Sen. Cruz later this evening. You can catch that full interview on Friday’s edition of Capital Tonight at 7pm.


Putin/Trump meeting:

Tomorrow, the eyes of the world will be on one of the most anticipated meetings between two of the most powerful men on the planet. President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany.

The White House is downplaying the critical encounter. And our Washington reporter Alberto Pimienta will have more tonight on the likelihood of whether the President will bring up Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.


North Korea missile:

President Trump says he’s considering quote “pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Experts say such a missile could reach Alaska. Paul Miller is the associate director of the Clements Center for National Security at UT-Austin. Hear his take on what options the country has to deal with the threat tonight at 7.


Republicans and the environment:

Can you be a Republican and an environmentalist? There are some out there — and one who recently described himself as just that joins us tonight.  Hear Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton’s stance on climate change and the state of Texas energy.


Capital Tonight airs nightly at 7.


Posted by Karina Kling




Daily Digest: July 5

Our daily digest is a mid-day update on the stories we’re following in Texas politics today. Here’s what we’re watching:


Texas Medicaid cuts:

Some special needs kids have lost critical therapy services since the state let $350 million in Medicaid cuts take effect in December. The cuts have prompted government reimbursement that’s offered to providers to fall up to 50 percent.

Our Max Gorden is speaking with an in-home therapy provider to find out how the cuts have affected his patients. Groups are also concerned the Texas cuts could be a preview of what’s to come nationwide if proposed Medicaid cuts being considered by Republicans in Congress are passed.


Sen. Ted Cruz on mini Texas tour:

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is on a state tour of sorts during Congress’ July 4th recess. And he’s already gotten an earful.

Cruz took part in an Independence Day parade in McAllen yesterday. He shook hands with supporters, but was also confronted by protesters in the Democratic stronghold. Some shared their frustrations with Cruz’s stance on health care. Others were angry about his support for President Trump’s stance on immigration and the proposed border wall.

But in his comments to local media, Cruz stayed focused on the day’s celebrations. “You know it’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to celebrate what brings us together, what makes America unique, which is the freedom that’s protected in the Constitution, protected in the Bill of Rights, the freedom that every American, every Texan has,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s Texas trip comes as negotiations continue behind closed doors regarding the health care bill currently stalled in the Senate.

The junior Texas senator will be in San Antonio and Austin tomorrow.


Political Analysts:

Our political analysts, Democrat Harold Cook and Republican Ted Delisi, will be in tonight to discuss the latest New Yorker piece — America’s Future is Texas. We’ll also discuss the upcoming special session and the latest chatter about stall tactics or pressuring lawmakers to pass priority bills.


Watch Capital Tonight at 7pm.


(The AP and CNN contributed to this post)


Posted by Karina Kling