Perry lays out special session scenario

Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to call a special session if lawmakers don’t find a way to cut $1.8 billion in taxes. He made those comments to reporters at the State Capitol today.

The governor’s remarks would indicate that the nearly $700 million in business tax cuts passed by the House yesterday aren’t enough to satisify his appetite for tax relief. He pointed out that there are still several more weeks for lawmakers to trim more from the budget.

Perry also stressed that the Legislature needs to find a way to fund water and infrastructure projects.

The Legislature is scheduled to leave Austin on May 27, unless Perry calls them back. If that happens, Gov. Perry can pile other priorities on their plate, if he chooses to do so.

Capital Tonight: House gives tentative approval to tax relief bill

Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton put his criticism in the form of a parliamentary inquiry, as the House debate over cuts to the franchise tax dragged into sunset.

“Is there anything left in the treasury?” Dutton asked.

The answer, according to the state comptroller at least, is yes. But the question explains why the governor’s call for tax relief is shaping up to be one of the most contentious issues of the session.

House Bill 500 would lower the amount of tax most businesses pay to the state. It passed to third reading by a vote of 112-27, and with an estimated two-year price tag of $667 million. Throughout the night, Democrats argued the state should instead focus on restoring cuts to education.

“It takes a stupid tax policy and makes it stupider. It takes an arbitrary tax policy and makes it more arbitrary,” Rep. Mark Strama said.

The bill’s author says it’s about spurring job growth and taking advantage of a healthier revenue outlook, while evening the tax playing field.

“The small employers, the mom and pop businesses get relief in this bill, and their employees benefit because those businesses will be stronger as a result of this bill,” Rep. Harvey Hilderbran said.

Click the image below to hear more about the bill, along with expert analysis from James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Dick Lavine with the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Capital Tonight: Straus sets up showdown over water funding

A showdown could be brewing between the House and Senate over funding for the state’s water plan.

In an interview with Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News, House Speaker Joe Straus revealed he was digging in his heels against a Senate plan that would include funding for education.

Senate Joint Resolution 1 would ask voters to authorize dipping nearly $6 billion into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund to pay for water and transportation infrastructure. But the measure also includes an extra $800 million for public education as part of a compromise with Senate Democrats.

Straus has been vocal about the need for water infrastructure funding since the start of session, but he now says such a decision should be made by lawmakers. He compared the constitutional amendment strategy to punting the issue to voters.

Capital Commentators Harold Cook and Ted Delisi joined us in studio to talk about the implications of Straus’ new stance. 


Education Bill Update

After passing with overwhelming support in the House, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s bill to change graduation and testing requirements remains stalled on the Senate side. The House Public Education chair spoke to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown about what he believes will happen next. 


House Gun Debate

The gun debate has been in the national spotlight lately, and this weekend, it’s expected to spur renewed debate at the Capitol. Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace spoke to one lawmaker whose name is on several of the proposed bills to get a preview of what to expect.

Capital Tonight: Water, guns and education

Planning for Growth

The need to fund water infrastructure has been at the forefront of the legislative session this year, especially with the growing population in Texas. A plan to draw out $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund failed to pass Monday, but Gov. Perry said lawmakers can expect to be in session until they find a resolution.

A bill passed out of committee Tuesday that would allow students to store their licensed concealed handgun in their vehicle on campus. Lawmakers said they want to give students the same rights that others have.

Standardized Testing

The house voted Tuesday to make changes to standardized tests for fourth and seventh grades. The changes include removing the standardized writing test and limiting the time needed to take the required tests.

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment is one of the grass roots groups supporting the changes. Joanne Salazar joined Paul Brown to discuss their campaign and the changes they hope to bring about.

Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Steve Munisteri sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including the Rainy Day Fund and Battleground Texas.

The Transparency Committee is continuing its look into CPRIT, and a bill that will make changes to the embattled agency is headed to the House.

Speaker Straus names House budget negotiators

The list of 10 lawmakers who will likely decide the final shape of the next two-year budget is complete.

Monday, House Speaker Joe Straus named his appointees to the conference committee on Senate Bill 1. They are:

  • Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie)
  • Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton)
  • Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton)
  • Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston)
  • Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond)

Last week, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced the Senate appointees. The group will be responsible for merging the different budget bills passed out of the two chambers. The Senate bill allows for $1.7 billion more in spending.

Dewhurst names Senate budget conference committee members

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced his appointees to the Conference Committee on the state budget, Thursday. These are the members who will help bridge the differences between the Senate and House versions of the budget bill.

The Senate will be represented by:

  • Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)
  • Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen)
  • Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock)
  • Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
  • Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston)

“I am confident that our Senate conferees will fulfill our Constitutional duty to balance our state budget, meet our obligations under current state and federal law, and fund our priorities in a fiscally responsible manner that does not raise taxes on hardworking Texans.” – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

Capital Tonight: Reversing course on ‘rainy day’ money

There’s been a lot of talk about it, and now state lawmakers appear ready to finally dip in to the state’s Rainy Day Fund this session.

The Senate Finance Committee voted to take 6 billion dollars out of the fund to pay for water and infrastructure projects.


Taking on the Governor

We don’t know if Gov. Rick Perry will run for re-election, and we don’t know if Attorney General Greg Abbott will throw his hat into the ring. But we do know of one former state agency leader who will seek your vote as a Republican candidate for governor.

Click the image below to see our one-on-one interview with Tom Pauken.

Senate Standoff Ends

The push for new gun safety legislation cleared a major hurdle Thursday.

With the help of 16 Republicans, the Senate voted to block a threatened Republican filibuster. That means debate on background checks and other, less popular legislation can begin.

Sen. John Cornyn voted to block the debate, but said he hoped for a substantive discussion afterward. Click the YNN logo below to watch the full episode.


Committee approves plan to use $6B from Rainy Day Fund

The Senate Finance Committee has approved a plan that would use $6 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization (or “Rainy Day”) Fund to pay for water and transportation infrastructure, but only if voters approve it through a constitutional amendment.

Sen. Tommy Williams introduced the plan Thursday morning. It earmarks $2.5 billion for water projects and $3.5 billion to improve Texas highways. The money would go toward two separate funds, one of which has already been approved by House lawmakers to address the state’s water needs. Until now, no such proposal dealing with transportation has gained much momentum.

The proposal is the largest withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund introduced this session. The fund balance is expected to grow to nearly $12 billion over the next two years if left unspent.

The plan would also allow lawmakers to skirt the state’s constitutional spending cap, which is set at 10.71 percent for the next two-year budget.

Capital Tonight: Revisiting vouchers, CPRIT and more

School Vouchers

Republicans and Democrats sparred once again over school vouchers Tuesday — including whether or not a newly proposed law counted as a voucher at all.

A bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick would partially pay for private school tuition through scholarships funded by tax-exempt donations. The bill has the support of Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., but Sen. Wendy Davis expressed skepticism.

Another hearing Tuesday looked into oversight of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT has been under fire since last year, with questions of grant-rigging and even a criminal investigation. Trust, transparency and accountability were at the top of the committee’s list Tuesday.

Equal Under the Law

A bill extending the Romeo and Juliet provision passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday. It would extend the Romeo and Juliet defense to same-sex couples over the age of 14.

Earlier in the day, 600 women visited the Capitol hoping to turn it blue for the day. Blue Ribbon Lobby Day organizers are pushing lawmakers to say yes to Medicaid expansion, restoring public education cuts and returning Planned Parenthood to the Women’s Health Program.

Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including school choice bills, CPRIT and new border security legislation filed by Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Michael McCaul.

Capital Tonight: House budget battle stretches into evening

Endless Amendments

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, House lawmakers were still busy debating the state’s budget bill.
The $193.8 billion package would fund the state’s finances over the next two-year budget cycle.

Although it lays out a spending plan for the future, much of the debate involved revisiting the cuts made last go-round.  


Grading Education Reform

As a native Texan with more than 30 years of educational experience, Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesús Chávez could be better suited than anyone to evaluate this session’s education proposals. We spoke to him about funding needs, graduation requirements and more. 


Possible Pocket Veto

It’s a bill filed in the Senate that aims to ban employer discrimination based on sexual orientation. Yesterday, a veteran of the Iraq war testified in favor of it, but no one testified in person against.

Now, the bill remains in committee, and some believe it could stay there in spite of public support. Chuck Smith of Equality Texas spoke about what the bill does and responds to its detractors.