Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Updates on the Lege (from Kronberg)

If you really want the in-depth, behind-the scenes look at what's happening in the Texas Legislature, there's no better source than Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report. He's better than the Trib, better than the Observer, and even better than most of us bloggers ... even Kuff -- though that's a close call ;^). His website is still too difficult to navigate and link to, and you have to pay (a lot) for the whole story, but experience and connections and respect as a non-partisan lend his news the greatest credibility. Here's an example from yesterday's Daily Buzz, a lot of stuff that really nobody else is writing about.


Most agree, proposed funding level will trigger school finance litigation

A failure to properly fund the compression of tax rates in the upcoming budget bill could force the commissioner of education to set property tax rates for local school districts around the state.

In this conversation, compression is the state funded rollback of school district tax rates.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock raised the issue during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing with Commissioner Robert Scott this afternoon. In the event the state was unable to fund the current compression of school district tax rates, how would tax rates end up being set? The tentative answer appears to be that it would be left to Scott and his agency to verify the funding available and then set tax rates.

“Please don’t put me in that spot,” Scott asked the committee.



Only $48 million at issue, but services have dramatic ramifications

Senators tapped to take a close look at the Medicaid program got a dose this morning of the difficulties in trimming services in a state where services that are considered optional don’t seem so optional in real life. Because of the restrictions placed by the federal health care reform, budget planners have less latitude in where to look for cuts in the Medicaid program. The big meat cleaver is the proposed 10 percent cut in reimbursement rates for health care providers. The “scalpel,” intended to save about $45 million in general revenue, is a 10 percent cut in acute care services offered to adults above basic care options.

In the Medicaid jargon, these are called “optional” services, but as HHS Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs reminded members of the Senate Finance subcommittee on Medicaid, Texas is already sparing in its funding of these add-on services. And, he added, the state has usually chosen to take on these additional services because they save money overall in the health care system. The example he often gives is hospice service because it requires much less service to allow a terminally ill patient to die at home or in a hospice than in the hospital.



In addition, bill would promote evidence based sex education

Texas should keep funding its share of a Medicaid program aimed at reducing teen pregnancies and require evidence-based sex education in public schools, two Democratic legislators said Monday.

“The surest way to prevent the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is to prevent the unwanted pregnancy,” said Sen. Kirk Watson. He acknowledged that abstinence is the surest form of prevention but also called for including more scientific and medical information in what schools teach children about sex.

Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Mark Strama stopped short of mandating instruction on contraception. But their identical companion bills (SB 585, HB 1255, aka the Prevention Works Act) would require school districts to inform parents whether the sex ed curriculum is abstinence-only or comprehensive and whether it includes instruction on condom use.



Naishtat files bill, Texas Retailers applauds Combs position

In the dispute between the Governor and the Comptroller over whether the state should fight to extract $269 million in unpaid sales taxes from online retailer Amazon.com, an unlikely champion has ridden to the rescue of Comptroller Susan Combs. Austin Democratic state Rep. Elliott Naishtat filed legislation today that would clarify that e-retailers like Amazon would have to pay sales tax on Internet transactions.

Local bricks and mortar retailers like bookstores or camera stores have complained for years that companies like Amazon have created an unfair competitive position by not paying sales taxes. The issue, though, gained a higher profile last week when Gov. Rick Perry called out Combs for pursuing $269 million that the state says is owed by Amazon for unpaid sales taxes. Amazon had responded to the Comptroller’s actions by deciding to close its Irving distribution facility. The company cited “an unfavorable regulatory climate” in making the decision.

The Chron has a bit of news about that last, essentially a crib of Harvey. The local daily lost RG Ratcliffe recently, and they will be a long time getting back up to speed. If you want to stick to the corporate media then Postcards and Trail Blazers run rings around the Chronicle. But they are only occasionally as good as the ones up-post.

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