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Texas Monthly: Burkablog

So long, Texas Senate

After yesterday, I don’t think I’ll have anything to say about this year’s self-discrediting Texas Senate. As R.G.

     


Budget Wizardry

Former Governor Rick Perry’s mantra was that the Texas economy is served best when state lawmakers “don’t spend all the money.” That doesn’t mean Perry was against spending money, and he exploded when one legislative session ended with the Legislature leaving unspent $2.2 billion in general revenue and $4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. “Generally speaking, it’s not the investments made in the budget that concern me,” Perry told the Austin newspaper. “It’s the charades; it’s the accounting sleights of hand; it’s the budgetary wizardry that gives me pause, especially with the state awash in revenue.”

Some things never change. The House Appropriations Committee this week sent the full House a $210 billion, two-year state budget that looks less like a paragon of fiscal conservatism than it does like a candidate for a reality television show on hoarding. The proposed House budget leaves $2 billion unspent from general revenue and $11.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. The budget also includes $4 billion in retained dedicated funds that can be used to certify the budget as balanced.

House leaders today announced they are going to add $800 million to the state’s budget in an effort to settle a school finance lawsuit brought by districts after the state cut $5 billion from education funding in 2011. That would leave $1.2 billion unspent. The yet to be seen House tax plan will whittle this amount down some, but overall this is a budget to make the legislators who ticked off Perry look like pikers.

Meanwhile, the Senate today took up legislation to reduce homeowner property taxes and lower franchise taxes for small businesses. It was a tax cut field day for the Senate’s Republicans, with votes they can carry to the electorate next year. Senators also approved a proposed constitutional amendment to bar the taxation of real estate transfers – that’s a tax that has never been collected. They also eliminated the estate tax, which has not been collected on any death since 2005. Senators also gave a $1.2 million tax break to the industry of boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Ki-ap! Take that House! 

     


Ted Cruz Blazed a New Trail to Higher Office

The Texas path to the Governor’s Mansion or the U.S. Senate for decades has followed two paths: First, be wealthy. Second, win election to a lower state office before running for higher office.

As U.S. Senator Ted Cruz launched his bid for president this week, I was struck by the idea that there is a new third path: the unelected post of Texas solicitor general, an office that did not even exist before 1999.

Cruz’s 2012 victory in the Senate race marked the first time in almost five decades that a Texas politician has won high office without following one of those two traditional paths. College professor John Tower won a special election to the U.S. Senate in 1961, and John Connally jumped from Secretary of the Navy in 1962 to the governor’s office.

The Texas solicitor general argues cases for the state on appeal, including before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. That job was Cruz’s from 2003 until he resigned in 2008. So who have been the solicitors general who have followed Ted Cruz in office?

     


FEMA's Climate Change Carrot to Texas

The climate change deniers of Texas can cling to their position if they want, but in the future it may cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost weather hazard mitigation money from the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is holding out this money as a carrot, a lure, to get Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas officials to embrace climate change as a reality and plan for it.

FEMA earlier this month released new rules that will require Texas to factor in climate change as it plans for weather disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires. If Texas does not do so after the rules take effect in March 2016, the state stands to lose millions in federal mitigation money. Inside Climate News reported that the new rule will especially impact states with governors who deny the existence of climate change.

“This could potentially become a major conflict for several Republican governors,” said Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan. “We aren’t just talking about coastal states.” Climate change affects droughts, rainfall and tornado activity. Fracking is being linked to more earthquakes, he said. “This could affect state leaders across the country.”

Among those who could face a difficult decision are Republican Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas and Pat McCrory of North Carolina—all of whom have denied man-made climate change or refused to take action. The states they lead face immediate threats from climate change.

     


Hell, Satan and a Ghost from the Past

Several hundred Christian fundamentalists gathered on the south steps of the Capitol today in a rally that was less about the defense of traditional marriage than about preparing for civil disobedience if, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court later this year declares bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Beneath a sweltering sun on the first truly hot day of the year, the preachers who spoke at the rally alluded to the idea that a nation that allows same-sex marriage is one teetering of the edge of a fiery maw. “It’s hot,” said Rick Scarborough of Vision America. “I don’t know if it means we’re closer to the sun or closer to hell.” The Bishop Sterling Lands of the Family Life International fellowship told the crowd “family is a Kingdom priority,” and added, “Satan holds marriage as high a priority as God does.”

     


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