5/30/2011 4:56 PM
The Senate adjourned Sine Die moments ago without passing SB 1811, the fiscal matters bill that has become the vehicle for school finance.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced shortly before final adjournment that despite his best efforts, Senate members were unable to reach an agreement to suspend the rules. It would have taken 25 votes, meaning six out of the 12 Democrats plus all the Republicans.
Dewhurst announced that since a deal was not reached, the Senate (and by implication the Legislature) will return tomorrow, May 31 for a special session, starting at 8 a.m.
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) told reporters shortly before adjournment that the budget could get smaller come special session. He expects SB 1811 will be an appropriations bill, which he said is already being drafted.
Ogden said he wants to see in the special session bill the language of SB 1811 plus an appropriation of approximately $34 billion. He called Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) “the largest budget-cutter in the history of Texas,” because by filibustering the budget she effectively zeroed out the Foundation School Program per a provision in HB 1, the budget.
Once the appropriation is made, the budget will balance, Ogden said.
Ogden predicted a long special session, because he expects the governor to put many issues on the agenda since there is no need for two-thirds support in a special session. Ogden called Davis’ filibuster, in that respect, “a gift to” Gov. Rick Perry.
“He’s the only one who can set the agenda now, and with overwhelming Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, just about anything he’s going to propose will probably pass,” Ogden said.
Davis said the governor has the ability “to call us back at any moment time” to put a “political issue on the agenda to advance his presidential aspirations.” (Perry, of course, has not said he is actually running, saying he would not be distracted by such questions while the Legislature still has work to do.)
“That doesn’t mean that we should be silenced in terms of what we think is right for the people that we represent,” Davis said.
“You have to stand up for what you believe in,” John Whitmire (D-Houston) said. “You can’t go on someone else’s agenda. You’ve got to represent your district and your convictions.”
Democrats said that Perry does not necessarily have to use the session to accomplish a sweeping agenda.
Davis said that the agreed-to budget took $4 billion away from public education in Texas.
“Our constituencies expect us to be here representing their priorities,” Davis said. “And their number one priority is the quality of public education for their children.”
Davis referenced the promise made in 2006 that school districts should compress their property tax rates and the state would make up the difference. She said the state left on the table Rainy Day Fund money and tax loopholes for businesses, while expecting schools to use their own cash reserves.
Ogden said that anyone who wants to use more rainy day fund money for public education “doesn’t understand the budget.” The remainder of the rainy day money “has to be a backstop” in case assumptions built into the budget “don’t work” or in case the state has to fully fund Medicaid, Ogden said.
Ogden also said SB 23 would need to come up in the session, saying that significant healthcare savings would be attained, and without it the budget shortfall in 2013 would be worse. Dewhurst said similarly earlier today. Ogden also expects TWIA will be on the call.