Friday, May 03, 2013

"We weren't sent (to Austin) to govern like California"

The Speaker throws the Teabaggers a bone.

House Speaker Joe Straus suggested in a Thursday interview that a Senate proposal to take $5.7 billion from the rainy day fund for water, transportation and education is too costly and represents an effort to “punt” lawmakers' responsibility by placing the issue on a ballot for voter approval.

“We weren't sent here to govern like California,” said Straus, R-San Antonio.

His comments came days after the House torpedoed an effort to take $2 billion from the rainy day fund for water projects, without resorting to a constitutional amendment.

But that House roadblock didn't make Senate Joint Resolution 1 any more attractive to Straus — although he said he is firmly committed to paying for a water plan, which he said is of prime importance.

“How the members want to fund it is the question. It will be funded,” Straus said. 

When all else fails, play the Cali card. Hey, it's been working great for the governor, right?

This is the same strategy employed by the Speaker with regard to Medicaid expansion and a bushel full of legislation now on the Sine Die countdown: "Something needs to be done, but I haven't a clue what it might be".

This is how you know there will be a special session: when something passes the Senate by unanimous consent but is --apparently -- DOA in the lower chamber.

Senators unanimously backed SJR 1, which would provide $2 billion for water, $2.9 billion for transportation and $800 million for public education.

Dedicating the money through a constitutional amendment would prevent the expenditures from counting against the state spending cap. The cap applies to state tax revenues that aren't constitutionally dedicated to other purposes.


Straus said, “I would say that SJR 1 is a no-go in the House.”

The Speaker has shown exemplary non-leadership throughout the 83rd Session. The Dems have managed once again, at critical moments, to outmaneuver the majority via parliamentary procedure, and the TP Caucus just says no to everything as usual. Faced with blockage he can't dissolve, Straus has decided to file his nails and coast to the end, content to let his lieutenants do the lifting.

With the Legislature entering its home stretch, key lawmakers are trying to figure out how to direct money from the rainy day fund to help build massive reservoir and pipeline projects.

Among the possibilities: Reviving some version of a bill that was killed Monday with a parliamentary maneuver and bringing it back to the House floor, where a spirited debate is likely to ensue; kicking the issue over to voters, as the Senate has proposed; or trying for a hybrid of rainy day fund and general revenue fund money to seed the revolving water fund.

That last option is the most likely, said state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who has played a behind-the-scenes role on water issues.

That Statesman piece also makes clear that legislators don't want to come back for a special.

“We are not going to leave the Capitol till we agree on some funding at the state level to facilitate construction called for in the state water plan,” Larson said.

Backers of the water plan are also making an appeal on drought grounds: Owing to Texas’ ongoing drought, legislators from South Texas, West Texas and Central Texas “will be hard pressed to vote against the plan,” Larson said.

Some members from each party are worried they could face a special session to deal with water, if they cannot pass a bill in the regular session, which ends May 27.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, a member of the speaker’s leadership team, shuddered at the idea of extra days of lawmaking.

“That’s a looming hammer hanging over all of us,” Cook said. “It will create an added incentive to get it done.”

Yeah. We'll see.

Sidestepping the vigorous debate in the House, senators last week unanimously passed a resolution calling for voters to consider a constitutional amendment transferring roughly $6 billion from the rainy day fund for water, roads and public education.

Their leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has at times seemed disengaged on the water issue. On the day the Senate took up the resolution, Dewhurst was in Houston to address a lunch-time gathering of the Pachyderm Club.

Dewhurst is still depressed over losing to Ted Cruz last year.

After the passage of the resolution, Dewhurst’s office issued a press release noting that he started talking to senators about improving the state’s infrastructure last summer. But kicking the decision over to voters, rather than leading senators to make a spending decision that could alienate tea party activists, appeared to be preferable for a man who lost his 2012 U.S. Senate primary to Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite.

The Lege is always full of surprises, especially as the session grinds down and sleep-deprived politicos get testy. But I don't see the Republicans making the hard choices to govern effectively for the state's citizens. Color me skeptimistic, but something -- in the homophobic words they so often use -- is going to have to get shoved down their throats.

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