Budget

Texas Candidates for Governor Respond to School Finance Ruling

Any possible changes the Texas Legislature makes to the school finance system will happen under the watch of the next governor. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is the current attorney general. His office represents the state in school finance litigation. Officially, his office said he would defend this law in court, just as he would any other law passed by the Legislature.

Later Thursday, his campaign released this statement:

“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before.”

Sen. Wendy Davis is also weighing in on today’s ruling. She has long criticized the Legislature’s decision to slash $5.4 billion in school spending in 2011. In a statement Thursday, she said:

“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”

Capital Tonight: Republicans Debate Details of Immigration Platform

You could call it a Southwest symposium. Today, Gov. Rick Perry welcomed fellow Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to Texas. While the governor of Arizona was here to talk jobs and balancing budgets, she also wanted Perry to be aware of a letter she sent President Obama this week.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard how Gov. Brewer is defending her state’s immigration policies and why she says she has a bone to pick with federal officials over immigrants picked up in Texas.

IMMIGRATION DEBATE

Meanwhile, the devil is in the details for Republicans in Forth Worth, as they work out the language for their party’s immigration platform. We checked in on the latest on that debate, plus former state lawmaker Aaron Peña joined us to give his take.

BEHIND THE BUDGET

It’s been months since the last Texas budget was passed, but the debate over whether it was stingy or a spending spree continues. We spoke to Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation about a new report that aims to make an apples-to-apples comparison between budgets.

House rallies support for transportation funding amendment

The Texas House has formally approved a plan that would funnel $800 million into Texas roads. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pickett,  would change the way gasoline tax is distributed. Currently, five cents of the 20-cent gas tax goes to pay for public education. Under this plan, all 25 cents would be funneled into transportation projects. The education money would be made up, elsewhere.

Transportation funding was all but passed last special session, but the bill ultimately died after it was placed on the Senate calendar after the abortion bill. As a result of Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster, a final vote never took place.

The legislation is now headed to the Senate, which has already approved its own version of the bill. The Senate resolution, however, includes some key differences. Notably, the bill guarantees that $6 billion will remain in the Rainy Day Fund. House Democrats have vowed to block such a provision.

Voters would still have to approve either plan.

House committee quietly passes abortion restrictions

After cutting off testimony that lasted into the wee hours of the morning Friday, state lawmakers came back Friday afternoon and quietly and quickly passed stricter abortion measures onto the full House for debate.

The votes fell along party lines.

If approved the new law would include banning abortions after 20 weeks, requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and only allow abortions in surgical facilities.

Hundreds of public citizens signed up to testify against the legislation at a committee hearing Thursday evening. They dubbed it a ‘people’s filibuster. But the committee chair cut off testimony early Friday morning, leaving those who had waited it out to become outraged. No vote was taken at that time on the bills.

Committee members came back together Friday afternoon in a room that held about 30 people and quickly approved the measures.

A full House debate on the bills is expected to take place Sunday afternoon.

Perry threatens to veto Public Integrity Unit funding

Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to strip state funding from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refuses to resign. The Public Integrity Unit is funded partially by the Texas Legislature and prosecutes ethics and campaign finance violations.

According to an Austin American-Statesman exclusive, Perry intends to line-item veto that portion of the state budget. The governor’s office would not go into specifics, but spokesman Rick Parsons told the paper “we’re going through the budget line by line. (The governor) has very deep concerns about the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit.”

Lehmberg was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges in April. Police records show her blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. Jailhouse surveillance video also shows Lehmberg acting belligerently toward the jailers. Lehmberg was sentenced to 45 days in jail and was released in early for good behavior.

Despite numerous petitions and lawsuits from attorneys and lawmakers alike, Lehmberg has maintained she will not step down as district attorney and head of the Public Integrity Unit. In court today, a judge determined that Lehmberg will face a jury in two separate lawsuits. One claims Lehmberg violated a code of conduct that states she cannot be intoxicated on or off duty. The other is for official misconduct, based on her actions in jail.

If Lehmberg chooses to step down, or is forced out of office, Gov. Perry would appoint her replacement.

 

 

Representatives urge Perry to add construction bonds to special session

A bipartisan group of Texas representatives is calling on Gov. Rick Perry to add campus construction bonds to the special session call. The Tuition Revenue Bonds, known as TRBs, would allocate millions of dollars for construction projects on college campuses across the state.

Despite having support from both parties in both the House and Senate, lawmakers ran out of time to pass the legislation in the regular session. Now, they’re urging Gov. Perry to give them a second chance.

More than 65 representatives signed a letter to governor saying “approval of these projects will bring notable benefits to our economy, while the construction and ongoing operations resulting in a significant multiplier effect in local communities throughout the state.”

You can read the full letter, and see if your representative signed it, below:

TRB Letter to Perry by TexasCapitalTonight

Capital Tonight: Public education issues still unresolved

Back to School

More questions are being raised in about the state’s school funding system.

Players from both sides of the school finance lawsuit were back in court Wednesday in an effort to get District Judge John Dietz to admit public education changes passed out of the 83rd Legislature as evidence. But many of those changes are still up in the air, pending Gov. Rick Perry’s signature — or his veto pen.

Campus Construction

As the special session creeps slowly along, some lawmakers are holding out hope that their legislation will make it on the call.

One push in particular is gaining a lot of attention. Legislation that would have approved about $2.5 billion in tuition revenue bonds fell through in the final hours of the regular session, but backers of the bills are hopeful it will be considered during the special session.

Candidate Perspective

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stopped by the studio to give his take on the regular session as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Click the logo below to see the full interview.

Lawmakers reflect on Sine Die, look ahead to possible special session

It is the last official day of the regular legislative session, but most of the real work was finished, yesterday.

Lawmakers sent a finalized budget bill to the governor. A day after the Senate gave it’s seal of approval, the House signed off on SB1. It restores most of the cuts made to education last session and provides funding for new water projects.

Lawmakers also passed through significant changes to public school testing and graduation requirements. Notably, however, the budget failed to include significant funding for long-term transportation needs. Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the process was much more democratic than in years past.

“I think this session reflected the lessons of the 2012 national elections,” said Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin). “It kind of indicated that voters didn’t like the extremism that had come to characterize the Republican party.” Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) agreed that there was a much less divisive tone this time around. ”Definitely different from last session in the sense that we were able to accomplish a lot of things that allowed us to move the state forward,” he said.

Even as lawmakers reflect on the session, they are not packing their bags to leave Austin, just yet. The halls of the Capitol are filled with talk that a special session is looming. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said he’d like to see lawmakers tackle some conservative legislation that didn’t pass in the regular session. That includes stricter abortion laws and relaxed statewide gun laws.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, meanwhile, wants to see lawmakers return to take up redistricting. He wants lawmakers to adopt the interim maps that were used in the last election. Redistricting committee chairman Drew Darby says he remains confident it will pass without much opposition. “If the call is limited to adopting the current court ordered maps, then everyone here in the House and the Senate were elected on these maps,” he said. “And so it’s going to be difficult for somebody to say they’re not happy with their district.”

It is ultimately up to Governor Rick Perry to call a special session. He also gets to determine what legislation he’ll put on the table.

Capital Tonight: Countdown to Sine Die

With just two days left in the regular session, lawmakers are on track to finalize a budget bill and pass a compromise on education reform.

Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace and Karina Kling show us where things stand heading into Sine Die.

Looking Ahead

Political experts Ted Delisi, Harvey Kronberg and Scott Braddock weigh in on the finer points of the budget deal, along with the possibility of a special session. Click the image below to see more.