Worst Session Ever

A look at the mess they’ve made

Worst Session Ever

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.
– R.W.

$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

Highlights

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

Lowlights

No real reforms of faulty eyewitness convictions; recommendations only

Bullets dodged

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

Worst Session Ever

Texas women take a backseat to anti-abortion politics and the war on Planned Parenthood. – J.S.

Highlights

None

Lowlights

$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

Highlights

In Texas House redistricting, Republicans finally gave up on all but one Travis County district.

Lowlights

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.

Green

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

Toxic

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 Winners

Worst Session Ever

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

  • More of the Story

  • Show Them the Need

    The great GOP wave breaks on the realities of the actual cost of government

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle