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From Teacher Cuts to Secession

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Day 22 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

Today, which promises more budget talk than anyone knows what to do with, also marks the 150th anniversary of Texas’ secession from the Union. (That would be the original Civil War secession, not the idea Gov. Rick Perry floated in 2009). While no official events in Austin will recognize the day, there’s still a lot going on under the pink dome. Members of the Senate Finance Committee got an earful of budget cuts and their consequences yesterday, and the rest of the week doesn’t look any different. Hearings will continue today at 9 a.m. with testimony from the Department of Family Protective Services, Department of Aging and Disabilities Services and the Health and Human Services Commission. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sent 310 bills to Senate committees yesterday afternoon—the first wave of likely 5,000 bills this session. The House will convene at 10 a.m. today and the Senate at 11 a.m.

1. A Continuous Shortfall

At the first of many Senate Finance Committee hearings yesterday, members learned that Texas could face a perpetual $10 billion shortfall each biennium should the existing tax structure go unchanged. John Heleman from the Legislative Budget Board attributed much of today’s projected $15 billion to $27 billion shortfall to the restructuring of the business tax that took place in 2006, along with the loss of federal stimulus dollars and the recession. As senators heard yesterday, that math has to change. [Texas Observer] [Austin American Statesman] 

 

2. Medicaid Mess
Good luck at the Senate Finance Committee today, Tom Suehs. The executive commissioner of the Health and the Human Services Commission is expected to ask the committee for an additional $6 billion to help cover the climbing Medicaid costs. The need for more money stems from higher inflation, growing caseloads and escalating medical costs (as filed, the Senate’s base budget allocates $35.2 billion to Medicaid). The proposed budget doesn’t account for the estimated 250,000 more people expected to join Medicaid, but the state will have to pay for those patients one way or another. It’s just a question of whether Suehs will get his money this budget cycle or the next. [Austin American Statesman]

3. Neil vs. Howard
Dan Neil hopes today will be the start of a victory. The Travis County Republican lost his state House race to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, by 16 votes in the general election, and then by 12 votes in a recount. Neil appealed to the Texas House, which appointed a committee scheduled to review the case starting today. Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, will lead the investigation. [Texas Tribune]

4. Talkin’ About My Education
Lawmakers may soon begin exploring teacher salary cuts and unpaid teacher furloughs as ways to help plug the budget hole school districts are facing. Up to 100,000 teacher jobs are at stake as districts could receive $9.8 billion less this budget cycle. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who chairs the Senate Committee of Education, said she’d be willing to change current law to allow teacher salaries to be reduced, if it would lessen the pain.  The committee will hold its first meeting today at 10 a.m. [Houston Chronicle] [Off the Kuff]

5. Not-so-happy Independence Day
While today’s 150th anniversary of Texas’ secession from the Union may be cause for celebration for some, Paul Burka calls the move “the worst decision ever made by leaders of this state.” In his column, Burka also suggests removing the outdated Children of the Confederacy Creed inscribed on a small plaque in the Capitol. Though touted as a commemoration of the Civil War, Burka writes it’s really about “reaching out from the graveyard of history to seek a revisionist legitimacy for what was illegitimate.” [Burka Blog]