Seven days in April Austin This year’s House debate on appropriations has definitively proved that bull will lonely be. “This is the best appropriations bill I have seen in my six terms in the House,” said one long-suffering liberal, “and it is still a piece of crap.” The appropriations debate went on for a record-breaking seven days. Day by day, it became more clear that all the disparate themes and tensions that have marked this session were coming to the surface, coming home to roost and whatever else it is that themes and tensions do. The first problem that has dogged this session is that of great expectations. The reality of what has happened in the House \(we Housies consider the Senate almost too dreadful when measured against the anticipation of those who saw this as the great year of reform. The word reform itself, pronounced “ree-form” by sarcastic conservatives, had been debased by overusage even before the session began. It soon became a red flag, deleteriously affecting the chances of any bill so-labelled because of the knee-jerk hostility from certain old-timers. These gentlemen, conservatives all, are not \(for the most see cleaner, more effective state government. But they identify “ree-form” with a kind of panty-waist, wienie self-righteousness which they feel bears no relation to the rough, tough kinds of compromise political reality demands. Price Daniel, Jr., frequently scorned by some senior House members as a “sissy do-gooder” and “naive schmuck” has probably never stood so high in the estimation of the House hard-noses as on the night of April 18, when he fast-gavelled through a questionable recess vote. He not only fast-gavelled, he damn near broke the block with the gavel before coolly trotting off the dais despite the pandemonium of protest. “Ree-form” is also identified with a kind of humorless priggishness. One moderate member said of Lane Denton, one of the surviving hardcore Dirty Thirty, “He thinks his poo-poo doesn’t stink.” The House freshman class, 70-odd members elected on reform platforms, has proved disappointing. One reform freshman has become famous only because of the virulence of his halitosis. Two others had the singular honor, in their first session, of making the press corps’ Top Ten Dumb list. Others have flaked and/or proved themselves inept to one degree or another. The liberal vote in the House is stuck between 47 and 55. It may be quantitatively superior to 30, but the liberals still lose no matter what they do and they still get just as frustrated. BEFORE ANYONE began cutting on House Bill 139 or trying to fat it up a bit here and there, there was almost unanimous recognition of the vast improvement the thing represented. It weighed in this year at $9.7 billion, 420 legal-sized pages, 4 pounds and 15 ounces. The 1974-75 House appropriations bill was probably more thoroughly researched by the committee than any other such bill in Texas history, which is to say, unfortunately, not very well researched. For example, last session the Health Department’s appropriation was $46.6 million of which $45.4 million was in a lump sum grant for “other operating expenses.” This year, showing a dynamite improvement, out of a total appropriation of $52.4 million, $48.4 million is in a lump sum for other and operating. Defenders of this system say that legislators need only ask to have any given item broken out of the lump: how much for sewer inspectors, how much for vaccine, anything you want to know. The trouble is that no one knows what to ask for because no one knows what all is in the lump sum. The Budget Board never breaks out boondoggles. Perhaps one of the best things in this year’s bill is a half-million dollar appropriation for program evaluation. What that means is that in the future legislators will have some idea of whether or not a given program works worth a damn, whether it needs more money, whether it should be axed entirely. The bill also presented a sane, humane policy in that it, by and large, eschewed bricks and mortar in favor of people programs. One of the committee’s chief concerns was to take care of state employees, who, with some notable exceptions, are a sad collection of hardship cases. The Caldwell committee weighted state salary increases in favor of those at the bottom of the scale. Thus, lowest paid employees in groups 2-7 would get a 10.2 percent increase over the biennium. Those in groups 8-12 will get 6.8 percent and groups 13-21 a 3.4 percent increase. appropriations committee, bemoaning his role as a moderate. “Attacked by the liberals, attacked by the conservatives: this is no damn fun,” quoth he. A few days later, as the hours grew longer and the tempers shorter, Caldwell came down with one of his periodic bouts of asthma and subsequently wandered around looking like Banquo’s ghost. Odd corners of state government are illuminated by appropriations debates: one can learn of exotic departments, esoteric commissions and old feuds. For instance, it seems that one H.Q. Sibley, head of the Animal Health Commission, is one of the most loathed men in state government. It’s a question of dipping versus spraying, you understand. Sibley is a letter-of-the-law man and the law says you gotta dip your cattle for ticks. But if you dip a cow in mid-winter in the Panhandle, it’s quite likely to freeze to death. In fact, some representatives say there’s a 10 percent loss rate. The feelings on this question run alarmingly high. Rep. Bryan Poff of Amarillo has been heard to advocate dipping Sibley in zero-degree weather. The House finally showed clemency and did not cut Sibley’s salary. For some time now Hugh Yantis of the Water Quality Board has been a target of the environmentalists, who believe he is the lackey of industrial polluters. Rep. Joe Allen of Baytown once sponsored a bill known as the “put a hickey on Hugh Yantis’s nose bill”. The appropriations committee recommended, very simply, that Yantis’ salary be cut in half. The House restored the money. For another instance, one can hear of the Vernon Center, designed to rehabilitate young “hard-core narcotics addicts” by shipping them to the middle of Bill Heatly’s district and locking them up under the tender loving care of an ex-warden. No one expects it to rehabilitate anyone, but it’s the only maximum-security hard-core youth treatment center we got, and that in the bill. IN THE EARLY GOING most of the amendments \(pronounced “menmunt” who had spent weeks researching the bill and found numerous soft spots in it. To their surprise, the libs were joined by a group of restless conservatives: Tom Uher of Bay City, who reportedly can’t abide Price, Jr., Billy Williamson, one of the great The debate opened with Neil Caldwell, effervescent hero and chairman of the May 11, 1973 3
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