Before Lawrence Summers is confirmed to replace Robert Rubin as Treasury Secretary, somebody ought to tip the President off about the exceptional abilities of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. Confronted with a diminishing surplus with which to fund George W. Bush’s tax givebacks, and growing demands from the Legislature to certify the budget so that the appropriations and education funding processes might be brought to a conclusion before the session ends, Rylander — always a one-woman laugh riot — finally called a press conference to announce that she has found an additional $807 million in revenue (see “Guv’nor Crunch,” page 8).
She even brought with her a visual aid — a basket filled with hollow, plastic golden eggs, each filled with chocolate coins. “A hundred fifty-one golden eggs,” she said. “One for each member of the Legislature.” By now, most of the Capitol press corps has heard at least twice Rylander’s line that “a hundred years and a hundred pounds ago, I was a school teacher.” What several reporters wanted to hear was Rylander’s explanation of why she was certifying the budget in the middle of May, with only two weeks remaining in the legislative session.
“Because I needed those indicators from the month of April,” Rylander responded. “I have to be certain that we have the money we need for our biennial budget.”
“Why did no one ask why one month’s indicators would make a difference when they’re certifying funds for a biennium that ends two and a half years from now?” asked Dick Lavine, an economist and lobbyist for the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.
The delayed revenue certification, of course, has far more to do with the package of tax breaks on which George Bush is running for president than it does with sound fiscal policy. And Rylander’s shameless political maneuvering has already resulted in frenetic weekend hearings in the House Public Education Committee, which had been shut down for weeks while Rylander crunched the numbers that would provide the Governor “enough money for tax breaks and pay raises for teachers.”
Holding off the revenue certification until May 13 created real problems for education funding. Before the committee could schedule an all-day meeting on a teacher pay raise, the Comptroller’s revenue estimate would have to go through computer runs at the Texas Education Agency — to determine how money allocated for teacher pay raises will affect the delicately balanced equalization formulas that keep state funding of the state’s 1,000-plus school districts reasonably equitable. The education bill then will require one additional committee hearing, a protracted debate on the House floor, a House vote, and concurrence with the Senate. Maybe public education funding was different a hundred pounds ago.
To be fair, this is not the first time the Legislature has been placed in the service of a favorite son running for president. We still live with an election code designed to allow Lyndon Johnson to run for both the Senate and vice presidency. And in 1979, the Senate was shut down in a protest over the proposed John Connally primary. This, however, is the first time that public education policy has been put at risk so that a candidate from Texas can run for national office. “The general public,” Fort Worth Representative Lon Burnam said, “will never understand how harmful this is to the public interest.” — L.D.