Odds and ends from the Capitol

Budget Blues Return Democrats and education advocates are furious after Republicans filed state budgets reinforcing spending cuts passed in 2011, despite Comptroller Susan Combs' forecast projecting increased state revenues over the next two years. On Jan. 14, House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts filed House Bill 1, a draft budget with $89.2 billion in general revenue spending for 2014-15, though the Center for Public Policy Priorities calculates it will take at least $97.2 billion just to maintain current services. Senate Bill 1, as presented by Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is even worse, allocating $174 million less. The CPPP blasted both proposals for leaving $6 billion in forecast revenue unallocated – a worrying sign when Gov. Rick Perry has said he wants more tax cuts. Both HB 1 and SB 1 would cover enrollment growth for schools, but would not restore the $500-per-student cut passed last session. Texas AFT President Linda Bridges drily commented, "The best that can be said for today's initial spending plans is that they are just the starting point, not the ending point."

Point of Order The House finally adopted its new rules on Jan. 14, with yet more defeats for Tea Partiers. The hardliners failed to pass amendments that would tie the hands of committee chairs by creating new paths to fast-track controversial bills out of committee. However, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, found support to rewrite points of order, meaning bills could no longer be derailed just because of small technical and grammatical errors. In a genius flourish of political ju-jitsu, King reminded Democrats that this would be a return to the 1990s rules of Democratic Speaker Pete Laney.

Hurry Up and Wait Both House and Senate are out until Wednesday, Jan. 23. When they return, the top order of business will be the drawing of Senate terms. Because of redistricting, all Senate seats were contested in last November's election. However, since they are held for staggered four-year terms, with half the seats on the ballot every two years, senators have to draw balls to see who gets the full four years and who will be running for re-election in 2014. While no one wants to pull a two-year term, ambitious lawmakers eying higher office in 2014, like governor or attorney general, are much more likely to risk a statewide run if they know their senate seat will still safely be there for them if they lose.

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