Joe Straus

Capital Tonight: Legislature gets down to business

Click on the link at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s full show.

After a slow first week, lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session are ready to get to work.

Both chambers say they’ve finalized initial budget proposals. On the House side, money for increased Medicaid enrollment is factored in, while funding for statewide school testing is not.

Republican Rep. Jim Pitts is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He said lawmakers need to look more closely at whether current testing standards are working.

“We have seen the over-emphasis on testing over the last 10 years, and we want to see [if that is] all necessary. Do we want to spend all year long testing and teaching for a test?”

The Senate’s initial proposal is smaller, with $186.8 billion allocated, compared to the House’s $187.7 billion. In both proposals, money for the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was cut out.

House lawmakers also went through the process of adopting rules Monday, but not without some friction. Rep. David Simpson, who withdrew his bid to challenge Rep. Joe Straus for the speakership, pursued rule changes that would have limited Straus’ power. Most of those changes weren’t adopted, and Simpson received some terse advice from fellow Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle.

“I think, Representative, when you’re here longer, when you understand the process and when you appreciate the process that we have had so that we can make the best use of the time that we are allotted,” Rep. Riddle said.

We also spoke to the head of the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas in tonight’s episode. The group’s president, Jack Gullahorn, says his chief responsibility is to raise the bar for lobbying in Texas, and to help people understand what lobbyists do.

Click the YNN Video link to watch tonight’s full show.

 

 

On tonight’s show: Perry’s plans and Straus stays speaker

The 83rd legislative session is officialy underway, and all things considered, it was a relatively quiet start to the session. Here’s a look at what’s coming up on tonight’s show:

Perry lays out his plans

Gov. Rick Perry addressed both the House and the Senate this afternoon.  While the governor didn’t name any emergency items, he did chart a course for the upcoming session. Perry urged lawmakers to focus on the economy and cautioned that lawmakers should continue to limit the size of government.

“We have to remember that Monday’s budget estimate represents not a chance to spend freely, but an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very policies that have made Texas economically strong,” he said. 

Tonight, we will hear more from Gov. Perry and get reaction from some Senate Democrats.

Straus reelected speaker 

Rep. Joe Straus has begun his third term as Texas House Speaker.  He was reelected without a roll call after his challenger Rep. David Simpson announced on the floor that he was dropping out of the race. Despite a vocal campaign to ‘Oust Straus,’ in the end, Simpson didn’t have the support to win a floor fight.  Tonight, we’ll take a closer look at Straus’ priorities for the upcoming session.

One-on-one

Sen. Leticia VanDePutte has been named president pro tem for the 83rd legislative session.  Tonight our Paul Brown sits down with the long time Senator from San Antonio.

Straus: Stop accounting tricks

House Speaker Joe Straus called for truth in budgeting, Monday, asking lawmakers to make sure the fees paid by Texans go to their intended purposes. Straus says the long, accepted practice of diverting fees generated for specific purposes to certify the state budget, instead of being spent on their intended purpose has to stop.

For decades those fees have been used as part of "funds consolidation," an accounting trick meant to balance the budget.

"It’s been a long, accepted practice in good times and in bad times, and there’s never going to be an easy time to deal with this," Straus said.

Straus asked a House subcommittee on appropriations to consider how to make the budget process more transparent.

"I’m not saying today that we need to cut $5 billion to straighten this out. What I am saying is that we should be honest in our budgeting and we should collect fees for their intended purpose or stop collecting them," Straus said.

According to Straus, lawmakers have stockpiled nearly $5 billion in dedicated accounts to balance the budget. Examples include fees charged to drunk drivers that are supposed to go to hospital trauma centers. Instead of spending that money, lawmakers keep it in an account where it can be used to balance the budget.

Texas Hospital Association spokesperson Denise Rose says because hospitals do not receive the full amount, each year there’s a possibility of less care, especially in rural areas that can’t keep centers going on their own dime.

"Our half, we’ve gotten portions appropriated, but never the full amount," Rose said. "It’s a chunk of money that’s helpful to a lot of communities, and I think it just increases the strain on hospital facilities and the safety nets and will end up being passed down in some form or fashion."

In a statement Straus said, "This move toward greater transparency will require discipline and tough choices, but I am confident that the House is up to the challenge. In the end, Texans will have a budget that is fairer, simpler and more straightforward."

Austin State Senator Kirk Watson, who championed the Honesty Agenda during the last legislative session, said he is pleased with the call for transparency by the speaker.

"I’m very encouraged by the Speaker’s comments today on the vital issue of ending the diversion of dedicated funds – taxes or fees that Texans pay for specific purposes such as parks, hospitals, and utility bill relief, but that instead are used to certify the budget," Watson said in a press release. "We need to start working on these reforms right now, especially given the budget uncertainties we know we will face next year. And I will work with the Speaker and any other public official in Texas to truly reform the system and ensure taxpayers’ money is used for its intended purpose."