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POLITICAL I TELLIGENCE The Struggles for Power SCHOOL’S OUT During the first go-around of the fourth special session to repair the state’s school-funding system, House leaders somehow managed to take the school out of school finance. On the session’s fifth daywith the House gearing up for its first major debateSpeaker Tom Craddick exercised his power to forbid amendments dealing with education. Instead, members would be allowed to focus on only property tax cuts. The procedural rule incensed Democrats and some Republicans, few of whom found comfort in the leadership’s promise to address public education reform later. “It’s almost like sleeping with a woman tonight and telling her I’m going to marry you tomorrow,” said the House floor. “Why can’t I marry her before we sleep together… If you can’t come right, don’t come at all.” After the House members composed themselves, Turner noted that although the Texas Supreme Court hasn’t found the level of education in public schools to be unconstitutional, the justices have made it clear that they’re not thrilled with the status quo. “They didn’t say we’re doing OK,” Turner said. “They said the adequacy of education, which has yet to become unconstitutional, will become unconstitutional if the Legislature does not do more. If we’re going to fix it, let’s fix it now.” But fix it they did not. In a marathon session on April 24, lawmakers managed to pass four billsall dealing with property tax reduction. The debate, or lack thereof, on education in the House is politically dicey for Craddick. He’s trying to retain his speakership following a primary election in March that eroded his power. The chattering class has it that Rep. Jim Pitts Committee chair, is running for speaker and counting votes from House members to knock off Craddick at the start of the regular session next January. The special session has given Pitts an opening. The same day that Craddick cajoled the no-education rule through the House, Pitts filed an education reform money for schools, including a teacher pay raise, and other public school initiatives that have broad support in the House. How Craddick decides to handle the billlet it come to the House floor or keep it bottled up in committeemay help determine how much longer he remains in the speaker’s chair. Across the Capitol, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seemed to be thinking the House about the Senate adding language to that bill that will improve our schools, such as teacher pay raises, incentives, and increased accountability and performance,” Dewhurst said in a statement after the House passed its tax bills. “It is imperative that the Senate work thoroughly and carefully to craft a school finance reform bill that will ensure we improve our schools, lower local school property taxes and level the playing field for Texas’ businesses.” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte \(D-San committee, said the session would be a failure without education reform. One of the reasons it might be easier in the Senate to work on education issues is simply because the Senate parliamentarian said the issues fall into the scope of the special session. \(The House came to the opposite conclusenators, whose behavior has always been more congenial than that of the House members, also have the luxury of huge districts that encompass both rich and poor school districts. In the House, plenty of members represent only rich school districts, which makes it harder to alter a system in which rich districts must surrender property tax money to poorer districts. As Van de Putte put it, “We represent big districts, and you don’t find so much parochialism.” CRUEL SUMMER With energy prices at the same stratospheric level as the mercury in thermometers across the state, state Rep. Sylvester Turner \(Dof House members and senators in an effort to cool down the poorest Texans. Turner and his colleagues want the Legislature to revive the System Benefit Funda pot of money into which every utility customer contributes and which is supposed to help poor Texans pay their electricity bills. Lawmakers gutted the fund last session leaving some Texans to sweat out the summer. Lawmakers decided to raid the $427 million in the fund for other state spending to fill a gap in the budget, even though Texans are still being told on their electric bills that they’re dishing out about 65 cents a month to aid their poor neighbors. “This is a critical issue that we have an opportunity to address before things get any worse,” Turner said in a statement. “We are already at the breaking point, and it will just get worse as it gets hotter.” Turner has filed House Bill 31 and House Bill 32 in the special session to fix the problem of rising energy costs. HB 32 calls for halting the fee for the System Benefit Fund unless the money goes where it’s supposed to. Turner’s other bill, HB 31, is designed to adjust the “price to beat” fuel factorset by the stateto reflect the real price of natural gas, instead of the current artificially high rates based on the price of natural gas from the days after hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Turner and more than a dozen other lawmakers asked Gov. Rick Perry to allow the Legislature to add energy issues to the agenda of the special session. \(Only the governor can set the that $8 billion surplus, after all. But 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 5, 2006