From Blackout Profits to Education Cuts


Day 25 of the 82nd Texas Legislature

Texas seems to be short on a few things these days—namely warmth, electricity and money. Yesterday was day two of public testimonials on proposed budget cuts for health and human services. Despite rolling blackouts and ungodly weather (for Texas), almost 200 turned up to beg the Senate Finance Committee to find some alternative to cutting the programs they rely on. Upstairs, the Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously approved SB 18 that would amend eminent domain law. And, where was Gov. Rick Perry? He was enjoying some warmer climes at a celebration for Ronald Reagan’s birthday in California—a move Texas Democrats are crying about. The Senate Finance Committee begins public hearings on Education budget cuts Monday. Until then, both the Senate and House are adjourned for the weekend, so stay home, stay safe and stay warm.

1. Behind the Blackout

Rolling blackouts were all over the news this week as thousands of Texan’s went for periods without electricity. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said that while conclusions were still tentative, he believed the power shortages were caused by a chain reaction of problems involving the coal and gas plants. However, according to Forrest Wilder, some cashed in big from the blackouts, which has some suspicious of foul play. [Texas Observer] [Texas Tribune] 


2. Pleas for Help

Parents, advocates, medical providers, the developmentally and physically disabled all braved the winter storms this week to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on the cuts to health and human services proposed in the draft budget. Nearly 200 individuals shared their stories of struggle, triumph and sadness in a plea to lawmakers not to cut the health and social service programs they rely on. Dave Mann tells some of those stories in his story today. Despite the litany of admonishments and petitions, some Republican lawmakers said they would refuse to raise taxes. [Texas Observer]  [Dallas Morning News]


3. The Coming Storm 

Monday, the Senate Finance Committee will begin hearing public testimony on the proposed $9 billion in cuts to education outlined in the Senate budget bill. It seems that the Legislature aims to carve any remaining fat from our already emaciated education system rather then seeking new revenue. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, have both said they will be working on a school finance reform bill that will change how much gets passed out—and allow the state to give out less of it. The question is: Even among conservatives, who wants to vote for a bill that cuts funding to their school districts? [Texas Observer]


4. Imminent Domain

Voter ID passed the Senate last week, and now the upper chamber looks like it’s moving on to another “emergency item” from the governor.  The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously approved SB 18, a bill that would fix loopholes in current eminent domain law and protect landowners from losing their property to public projects. Lawmakers have tried to amend the law every session for six years without success and it looks like this time they’re not wasting any time. If the bill passes in the Senate—which is expected—it will be the second of Perry’s five emergency items rushed through the upper chamber. [Austin American Statesman]


5. California Dreaming 

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry got some heat from Democrats yesterday, who criticized him for escaping to California while the Lone Star State was suffering from rolling blackouts and a minor winter crisis. Perry was in California to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan and will return Sunday—when weather forecasters predict sunny skies and a high of 68 degrees. But he’s in for his share of cold—it’ll be back in the 20s by Monday. [Ft. Worth Star Telegram]