From Hammer-time to a Whopping Shortfall

Day One at the Lege


Day One of the 82nd Texas Legislature

Welcome to the Texas Observer‘s Hot List, where you can get a quick morning dose of daily news from the Capitol—and an occasional snicker. Whether it’s budget shortfalls or terror babies, if it’s in the headlines and worth a read, you’ll find it here. Today’s List ranges from a majority-leader-turned-convict to the blockbuster of all Speaker’s races. It may not always be pretty, but here at the List, we’ll try to keep it entertaining.

1. Hammered

It was a bit like that “Give me Liberty” speech—if you replace Patrick Henry with a now-convicted, formerly powerful politician. Before receiving his three-year prison sentence for conspiracy, Tom Delay took the stage in a speech declaring his total innocence. “I have fought the good fight,” the oration began. “I have run the race.” Apparently his words didn’t have the intended effect, though; the judge did suspend a five year sentence for money laundering, instead requiring 10 years for money laundering. The one-time “Hammer’ of national politics is now out on bail, still maintaining that he was a target of “selective prosecution.” Guess the Lege will have to do redistricting without him this time.

But lest you think he had no sense of guilt, Delay did admit to being arrogant. But then again, he said, he likes “to think of it as ‘Texas cocky.'” [Texas Observer] [Austin American-Statesman]

2. Speaking of That

It’s. Still. Going. The race for Speaker of the Texas House started in earnest the day after elections—and it ends on Tuesday. After months of grassroots mobilization against sitting Speaker Joe Straus, the Republican caucus met yesterday to take a vote on just who a majority of GOP members supported. Straus’ opponents, Tea Partier Ken Paxton and long-time social conservative Warren Chisum, both saw strong support from outside hard-right activists of their party. Turns out, loud voices and lots of internet ads didn’t equate to votes. Straus had support from a solid two-thirds of the GOP caucus. But it’s not over till the fat lady sings. With support from Chisum, Paxton announced he would stay in the race. When the House convenes today, members will have to vote for either Paxton or Straus—with a whole lot of Tea Party activists watching. [San Antonio Express-News] [Texas Tribune]

3. All About the Benjamins

Call it the economic equivalent of rubbernecking—so bad you can’t look away. Yesterday, state Comptroller Susan Combs released her revenue estimates for the year, and pretty they ain’t. If Texas wants to keep current service levels, well, we’re almost $27 billion short. Heck, even if we used the state’s $9-billion emergency piggy bank, the Rainy Day Fund, we’d still be coming up short. As Dave Mann says, “Texas became one of those states—the kind that makes national news for its budget woes, the place that closes state parks, that doesn’t just cut public programs, but wipes them out entirely, that combines school districts and lays off thousands of public employees.” But hey, at least the situation isn’t as bad as California’s …. Oh, right. It’s worse! [Houston Chronicle] [Texas Observer]

4. 7 of 10 Voters Agree…

With the elections just over, it’s apparently the perfect time to do another telephone survey. Courtesy of the state’s newspapers, we now know Gov. Rick Perry has a 51-percent approval rating, his highest in five years. But another result is far more striking: A whopping 70 percent don’t want to see cuts to public schools—which is pretty much inevitable given the budget right now. As the Princess Bride would say, “Get used to disappointment.”  [Austin American-Statesman] [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

5. Party Like It’s a Year with a Giant Shortfall!

Who doesn’t like a good party? Turns out a lot of people in a year where giant cuts are expected. Gov. Perry’s carefully scaled back his inauguration plans, bringing the cost to a measly $2 million.  Who says they’re not feeling the budget crunch? [Austin American-Statesman]