Day 17 of the 82nd Texas Legislature
So that’s one thing to check off the GOP to-do list. Voter ID passed in the Senate yesterday, 19-11, much to the chagrin of Senate Democrats who struggled for hours to amend the hardline bill. The measure still has to be approved by the House, but unless Democrats can convince 27 of the 101 Republicans to take a more moderate approach, the Senate version will very likely become law. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg—a slew of conservative bills are waiting in the wings. And just to start your day off right, more budget related woes are surfacing as school districts and counties are beginning to calculate the cuts they will have to make to survive the coming storm. At least there’s some juicy gossip to keep things interesting—state Comptroller Susan Combs is rumored to be running for lieutenant governor.
1. Th-th-that’s all senators!
Well, we all knew it would happen sooner or later. The Senate passed voter ID legislation late last night, requiring voters to show a picture ID before voting. (Those over 70 get an exemption.) To no one’s big surprise, the vote was 19-11, falling along partisan lines (Democrat state Sen. Carlos Uresti was absent). The bill, carried by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, is more stringent than the voter ID bill that Democrats fought so hard to block in 2009. Senate Democrats spent several hours yesterday struggling to soften the bill, but the Republican majority shot down one amendment after another. In the end, only a few changes to the bill found bi-partisan support. One required that any costs to the measure have an allotment in the budget. Another allowed concealed hand gun licenses to count as a valid form of voter ID. The bill now moves onto the House, where a Republican supermajority awaits. [Dallas Morning News] [Texas Observer]
2. We Don’t Need No Education
In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, President Obama encouraged “every young person listening who’s contemplating their career choice” to become a teacher. Well, that is if you don’t live in Texas. North East Independent School District is considering cutting more than 200 teacher and administrative positions as one of many ways to weather an estimated $86 million budget cut that the district will suffer under the proposed state budget. But North East is only one of many school districts looking to lay off teachers and cut services. According to Jennifer R. Lloyd of the San Antonio Express-News, Judson Independent School District has already notified more than 40 staffers that they may not have a job next year. Public education along with Medicaid will be hit hard under the $158 billion budget proposed in the Senate on Monday. This first version cuts spending by $28.8 billion and does not assume any new taxes or any use of the Rainy Day Fund. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up debate on the budget early next week. [Dallas Morning News] [My San Antonio]
3. County Service Blues
And more budget woes—particularly for counties. The budget shortfall doesn’t just mean big cuts for statewide programs. It also puts a good bit of burden on counties, who aren’t exactly equipped to deal. According to a legislative analyst’s rough estimates, Harris County is bracing itself for an estimated $50 million a year in funding cuts under the proposed state budget. This equates to the severe downsizing of several social services and programs. About $13 million will be taken from mental health services alone, while a county-run school that services expelled, troubled children would lose a fourth of its $12 million budget. That’s not to mention the hundreds of layoffs and furloughs being contemplated to cut 10% of the county’s $1.3 billion budget. Sufficiently depressed? [The Houston Chronicle] [Dallas Morning News]
4. Two-Lane Highway to Retirement
The two top executives at the Texas Department of Transportation resigned yesterday. Executive Director Armadeo Saenz and Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons officially informed the commissioners of their intended retirements to take effect Aug. 31. Their announcements came just three weeks after a restructuring committee advised that the controversy-plagued agency make leadership changes at the highest level. “TxDOT will continue to evolve and I recognize a need to clear a path for the next person fortunate enough to occupy the position of executive director,” Saenz wrote to TxDOT Chairwomen Deirdre Delisi. The leadership restructuring may be a message to the Texas Legislature that has long criticized the management of the state’s Department of Transportation. [Ft Worth Star Telegram]
5. Gossip Girls
Did you hear the latest bathroom gossip? At a ladies-only legislative dinner last night, Comptroller Susan Combs told the group that she would run for lieutenant governor. Well, according to Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka anyways. He broke the news late last night and is already inspiring some interesting banter between Comb-fans and Comb-haters—in a comments section that’s almost always colorful. [Burka Blog]