Most years, like most Texans, we want the Legislature to finish its business and adjourn as quickly as possible.
But this year is different. With the state facing a massive budget shortfa ll and drastic spending cuts, the more time for debate, the better. We have the unnerving feeling that many Texans don’t understand the catastrophic effects of some of the cuts to education and health care that the Legislature is considering. Do most Texans want schools and nursing homes to close? We don’t think so.
The legislative session is always a mad dash of hurried policy-making. In 140 days, no bill receives the attention—from either the lawmakers or the public—that it probably deserves. But as the Legislature debates a budget that could end lives and livelihoods, public engagement is vital. That’s why we hope the Legislature sticks around this summer.
If lawmakers fail to pass a budget before the end of the regular session on May 30, the governor will call the lawmakers back for a special session—likely in July—to pass a budget before the next fiscal year begins on Sept. 1.
There are reasons to be nervous about a special session. Democrats will lose their one legislative weapon—the Senate tradition, during regular sessions, that bills receive two-thirds support to come to the floor, a weapon that they may have already lost. In early May, Senate Republicans circumvented the rule to pass the budget. And anything can happen in a special. Lawmakers would be free to write an even more drastic budget over the summer, though it’s hard to see how they could do worse than the current House version, which axes $23 billion from current spending levels.
But the potential advantages outweigh the risks. A special session focused only on the budget would bring more Texans into the conversation. Without the other bills to draw attention away from the fiscal proceedings, media outlets would swarm to a summer budget debate. Thousands of teachers and public employees who already got their pink slips could flood the Capitol and show lawmakers just what the faces of budget cuts look like.
And for the first time, Gov. Rick Perry, who’s laid oh-so-low when the House or Senate start talking about the actual costs of the cuts, might finally have to take some ownership of the proposed budget cuts.
It’s admittedly a gamble, but one we’re willing to make. A special session could be this state’s last hope for including more citizens in a budget process that will impact so many lives.