The State We're In Texas is the model for other states, Gov. Rick Perry told the combined House and Senate on Jan. 29 in his seventh State of the State address. Pointing to Wisconsin dumping union protections in the name of "right-to-work" laws, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to crush the poor by replacing income taxes with increased sales tax, Perry said it was time to go further. He proposes revamping the budget process, including a constitutional limit on spending growth that would limit budget increases to population growth plus inflation. His grandest scheme? To create a constitutional amendment for mass tax refunds, rather than reviving collapsing state infrastructure and services. Houston Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis quickly fired back that, since the $1.8 billion Perry proposes only equals $50 per person, it would be better spent patching up Texas' crumbling education system.
Shouting at the Bully Pulpit While Perry's "hack-and-slash" budget stance drew applause from Republican lawmakers, he was heckled by a member of the pro-Medicaid expansion Texas Organizing Project who yelled, "Governor Perry, what are you going to do about the seven million uninsured in Texas?"
Battling Budgets The Senate Finance committee is rushing ahead with budget plans, while Speaker Joe Straus has yet to select the members of the House Appropriations committee. This week Senate Finance Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, wrapped up meetings on Article III (education) and began hearings on Article II (Health and Human Services). Williams plans to have the Senate's draft budget to the floor by March 18. Hopefully House Appropriations will have met by then.
Not So Fast, Hoss If Perry thinks that he's headed for an easy ride in the 83rd Legislature, then he's not thinking about his cherished Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. A State Audit Office report published on Jan. 28 reports multiple concerns about how the $3 billion fund operates. It focuses on how three major grants, including $25.2 million to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, were approved in spite of being rejected by peer review panels. Lawmakers have spent the last few sessions looking askance at Perry's incentive programs and, as the biggest of the lot, CPRIT may well become a legislative battleground for the failed presidential candidate.
2012 Elections Continue It's a battle of the Houston Democrats as Rep. Carol Alvarado and Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia head to a run-off in the Senate District 6 special election. In the Jan. 26 first round, Garcia took 45.4% of the 16,433 votes cast, and Alvarado received 41.7% support in an eight-candidate field: With first round turnout of 5.2%, the run-off seems far too close to call. The seat is vacant due to the death of Sen. Mario Gallegos, and Democrats can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the Republicans and Green candidate have been knocked out. This raises the stakes for Alvarado's House seat if she wins. If sworn in as a senator, she would resign from the lower chamber, meaning Perry would call a special election in her seat. That means Democrats could be down a lawmaker for much of the session.
Leaders of the Pack It took two ballots, but Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, has beaten Houston's Armado Walle and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi to become House Democratic Caucus leader. She replaces outgoing leader Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and now must try to keep the other 54 Democrats unified. That's essential if they plan to derail controversial legislation using quorum rules. Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, is her new No. 2 as caucus chair.