Worst Session Ever
A look at the mess they’ve made
Budget: Smoke and Mirrors
Not only did the Legislature pass a budget that cuts total spending by $15.2 billion and general revenue spending by $1.6 billion, but it also had to use smoke and mirrors to cover its tracks. Here are some of the more egregious accounting tricks.
• $4.8 billion in acknowledged unfunded health care expenses, leading Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat to accuse the Republicans of "using Medicaid like a credit card"
• $125 million increase in school funding that still leaves the state $4 billion short of covering current costs. That equates to leaving a whole new district the size of Dallas Independent School District unfunded.
• Another $2.3 billion in "deferred payments" to schools. Basically, the state will hold back its August 2013 payment until September. That means the state will still have to pay it in the next biennium, but that will be the 83rd Legislature's problem.
• $830 million in federal EduJobs money awarded to Texas in May but held back to the 2011-12 school year to soften the impact of the state cuts
• A $700 million cut in medical spending that depends on a federal health care waiver. No waiver, no savings.
All this happened while the state was estimated to have $6.5 billion left in the Rainy Day Fund, much of which will now have to cover that Medicaid shortfall and the deferred school payments in two years' time.
Criminal Justice: Coulda Been Worse
A mixed bag of reforms, and the worst proposals got no traction. – Jordan Smith
• Good time credit for probationers and state jail inmates; incentives for successful probation systems
• Consolidation of juvenile prison system, including closing the worst joints
• Measures to ease burden of court-imposed fines on indigent
• Expanded access to post-conviction DNA testing for appellants
• No real reforms of faulty eyewitness convictions; recommendations only
• Various sentencing "enhancements" died in flames.
• Prison and prison health care privatization failed.
• Anti-"sanctuary cities" bill stalled (unless revived in special session).
Women's Health Care: From Bad to Horrid
Texas women take a backseat to anti-abortion politics and the war on Planned Parenthood. – J.S.
• $62 million in federal money cut from basic health care and family planning
• More than 200,000 women (and some men) lose all health care.
• Reauthorized Women's Health Program while banning Planned Parenthood
• Consequence: Another 100,000 women lose access to health care.
• Family-planning cuts likely lead to 22% rise in abortions (Guttmacher Institute).
• More money for "Alternatives to Abortion" counseling without health care
Worst of the Worst
• Required ultrasound probes of all women seeking abortions
Voting Rights: White Is Right
Republicans fiercely defended their dominance despite shifting demographic winds. – Lee Nichols
• In Texas House redistricting, Republicans finally gave up on all but one Travis County district.
• Voters must present photo ID to vote; supposedly to deter voter fraud, but Dems say it will keep poor folks out of the polls.
• The GOP shredded Travis County in the Senate, splitting it four ways, including a district stretching from Montopolis to Laredo.
• Both the House and Senate maps may be illegal: While the Anglo percentage of Texas' population went down, the number of Anglo-majority districts went up.
• Congressional redistricting never got moving in the regular session, but maps came out the first day of the special session, slicing and dicing Travis County up five ways.
Environment: Win Some, Lose Some
Any environmental progress at all from the 82nd session (assuming Perry signs the bills) is a victory in itself. – L.N.
• Oil and gas companies required to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking," a process that could threaten groundwater).
• Limitations on homeowners associations' ability to bar rooftop solar panels
• Guidelines to make new state buildings more energy-efficient
• The first steps taken toward a state television-recycling program
• Those fracking disclosures could be delayed for another year.
• Delayed implementation of air quality requirements outside the Barnett Shale region (Environmental Protection Agency not happy)
• Texas Parks & Wildlife Department funding slashed
• The comprehensive promotion of solar power went nowhere; dirty coal plants went untouched.
Waiting for Buzzards: New Official State Whatevers
Every session, the Legislature passes thousands of tip-of-the-hat resolutions. The most sought after accolade is to become the state's officially designated whatever-it-is-you-are. Not everything passes: The hamburger will have to wait another session to become the official state sandwich, and Lipscomb County's desire to become the turkey buzzard capital never even got out of committee. – R.W.
The Red Drum: the official State Saltwater Fish of Texas
Western Swing: the official State Music of Texas
Nymphaea Texas Dawn: the official State Waterlily of Texas
42: the official State Table Domino Game of Texas
Texas State Bison Herd, Caprock Canyons State Park: the official State Bison Herd of Texas
The Hot Spots
Giddings: Depot Capital of Texas
Lake Whitney: Getaway Capital of Texas