School finance, evolution, secession, and more
There Goes the Surplus
On Feb. 11, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to send House Bill 10, the supplemental appropriations bill, to the floor. What's that? Why, that's all the spending that lawmakers knew was coming when they passed the current state budget in 2011 but decided to punt into the current session. That includes $3.4 billion for the Health and Human Services Commission for Medicaid and the Children's Health Program, $1 billion for the Department of Aging and Disability Services, plus a deferred payment of $630 million for the Permanent School Fund. Remember, this is not new money: Instead, it repays schools and health care providers for what they already spent and decreases the state's estimated general revenue unexpended reserve from $8.8 billion to $4 billion.
Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, almost forced the House GOP's hand on school finance with an early vote. On Feb. 11, he tried to bring House Resolution 408 to the floor; that would allow the House to take up a school finance bill before the 60th day of the session (under the Texas Constitution, that's the first day such matters can be heard on the floor). Speaker Joe Straus derailed it on a procedural issue, and Republicans breathed a sigh of relief. They are trying to hold off on any school finance reform until the anticipated appeal of Judge John Dietz's ruling that the current system violates the Texas Constitution (ideally, they'd like to hold off until after primary season).
The Romance Is Over
Tea Party darling Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is learning the painful lesson that you can never be far right enough for the far right. On Jan. 12, she took to Facebook to explain – in a waffling, roundabout way – that she did not support calls for Texas to secede from the Union. She wrote, "I believe we can and should honor our Constitution as both Americans and Texans." Cue comments from fringers outraged that she is not backing the Texas Nationalist Movement's call for a secession referendum.
No Evolution at the State Board of Education
Barbara Cargill, Gov. Rick Perry's appointed SBOE chair, faced tough questioning from the Senate Nominations Committee Feb. 11, as her creationist stance came under the microscope. In 2007, the Senate rejected the nomination of her predecessor, Don McLeroy, because of his opposition to the teaching of evolution. When Perry selected Cargill as his replacement, there was some hope she would run the board with more deference to academic expertise than dogma. But questions have been raised since about her anti-science stances, including her proclivity to rank her fellow SBOE members on how Christian they are, and hiring conservatives to write the curriculum. Senators will vote on her confirmation next week.