The House and Senate budgets are now fully gassed up and pointed at each other on a dark road outside of town, now that the House Appropriations Committee has sent its version of the budget to the House floor. On the other side of the building, Senator Taylor got the much-debated school choice bill passed by the Senate, though in much reduced form and with three GOP no votes. The Railroad Commission kept its name and won’t be enforcing bathroom access, at least per the House version of the much-lobbied TRC Sunset bill. In the wake of Governor Greg Abbott’s big rhetorical play on state sovereignty last week, Ross Ramsey wrote a smart column we wish we had thought of first, connecting that message with the Governor’s play on a Convention of the State – all topped of with a clever Lord of the Rings reference that just seemed greedy. We had settled for trying to explain the roots of Sauron’s power in public attitudes in the Burkablog at Texas Monthly. The week ended with Beto O’Rourke formally confirming he’s going to run for the Democratic Senate nomination to face off against Ted Cruz, though he didn’t take a road trip to do it. Data on all this below - don’t forget that the graphics are interactive, though maybe, like readers of The New York Times, you don’t care.
1. Lest we forget: the Texas House is still a conservative political body. In a session in which some in the upper chamber and in corners of interest group universe have sought to paint the House as a liberal bastion, the house reminded them this week that it isn't by cutting roughly $2.4 billion from the state’s Medicaid budget. This is what they mean by limiting government, in case you’ve forgotten, even if this is portrayed as a gambit for a bloc grant or some waivers from the Trump administration (or even just a budgetary gimmick that the House has decried). You’re going to need at least one late-night Uber ride to the White House to pull that off. The deadline for pre-filing amendments to the budget bill is Monday at 10 am, and the bill is scheduled for debate in the House this Thursday.
|Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas||17%|
|Establishing a school voucher program in Texas||4%|
|Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes||16%|
|Lowering property tax bills for homeowners||20%|
|Lowering business taxes||4%|
|Increasing state funding for border security operations||12%|
|Increasing funding for Child Protective Services||13%|
|Don't know/no opinion||15%|
|Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas||23%||12%||13%|
|Establishing a school voucher program in Texas||3%||4%||5%|
|Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes||9%||19%||21%|
|Lowering property tax bills for homeowners||15%||29%||23%|
|Lowering business taxes||4%||2%||3%|
|Increasing state funding for border security operations||4%||8%||19%|
|Increasing funding for Child Protective Services||22%||6%||6%|
|Don't know/no opinion||19%||20%||9%|
2. The shadow of a school choice bill passes out of the Senate with three GOP no votes – Senators Seliger, Nichols, and Huffman. Given the monumental political capital that the Lt. Governor has put into passing a school choice bill this session, maybe any bill will do, even one that excludes smaller school districts, allows for the setting aside of significantly less money in the scholarship program, and excludes kids who haven’t been enrolled in public schools for at least a year (sorry committed homeschoolers). However, as we’re sure the Lt. Gov. would say, it’s a start, but also likely an end, unless the House changes course – likely at the bargaining table – for this significantly watered down version of a voucher bill.
|category||The Bible is the word of God, to be taken literally||The Bible is the word of God, not to be taken literally||The Bible is a book written by men|
3. The House crushed an attempt to add bathroom regulations to Railroad Commission bill. Before we talk about bathrooms (again), first, for fun, in the February poll, we asked Texas voters who regulates oil and gas amidst the perpetual failure to rename the Railroad commission. Forty-two percent chose the Texas Railroad Commission, with about a fifth saying outright that they didn’t know, and another thirty-eight percent choosing one of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Safety, or the Public Utility Commission. It’s important to note that people guess on these questions, so 42 percent is really an upper bound, and the percent of Texans who really know this is likely to be a lot lower. Many bills have been introduced to rename the Railroad Commission, most politely defeated by the establishment and the organized oil and gas interests in the name of tradition. Renaming didn’t make it into the Sunset bill carried by Sunset Commission chair Larry Gonzales this time, either, though there are a couple of freestanding renaming bills out there floating around to be ignored this session, too.
|Texas Railroad Commission||42%|
|Texas Department of Agriculture||10%|
|Texas Department of Public Safety||4%|
|Public Utility Commission of Texas||24%|
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to bathrooms. In addition to the riveting discussion of germaneness and when a ruling is not a ruling but a determination, North Carolina’s “repeal” of their own bathroom bill this week actually makes their law look more like SB6. Is this likely to influence the debate in either direction? It’s probably a wash. Expect opponents of SB6 to continue with the same arguments, and SB6’s proponents have rejected economic data as fake news and will continue to call for protecting women’s privacy and safety. (Not to mention that the bill looks to be dead in the house without regard for what North Carolinians do - they’re not from around here, you know.)
4. People are starting to realize that the term local control, as currently used, is wrong. Ross Ramsey, that wise
old owl (we’re still looking at you, Reeve Hamilton), did a great job this week in connecting the dots between Gov. Abbott’s recent comments on local control, state sovereignty, and a legislative solution and his broader push to amend the U.S. Constitution to give more power to the states. We also had a piece on the demise of local control this week in Texas Monthly, looking at the same issue from the angle of the voters, and their, how shall we politely say, underdeveloped attitudes about local control, and in turn, why it’s so easily exploitable - or discounted.
|Don't know/No opinion||27%||46%||33%|
|Don't know/No opinion||29%||28%||28%|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||26%||26%||16%|
|Don't know/no opinion||2%||7%||2%|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||30%||21%||21%|
|Don't know/no opinion||3%||4%||5%|
5. Rep. O’Rourke jumps into 2018 Senate Race as Abbott endorses Cruz. While talk has died down considerably about a 2018 Republican Primary challenge to Cruz in the wake of his non-endorsement of President Trump at the Republican National Convention, Texas Democrats have been introduced to their Senator through his failed presidential bid – and they didn’t like what they saw. This is likely part of the calculus for O’Rourke’s decision-making heading into 2018 (same with Rep. Castro). And while Democrats are likely to be motivated to turn out in somewhat higher numbers next election cycle in response to Trump’s presidency, as of right now, most don’t know O'Rourke -- which is an expensive proposition for anyone seeking statewide office in Texas. Setting aside for the moment all of the usual business about how Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in over 20 years, how Republican the state is, how powerful incumbency is, the less Democratic electorate in non-presidential years, etc. etc., the best thing for the Democratic Party in Texas is not unity, in fact, but a hard fought primary by two well-funded campaigns. This could breathe a little life into the state party – regardless of what happens in November 2018.
If you were surprised by the rough treatment received by the attempt to amend bathroom language on the TRC sunset bill, you clearly haven’t watched our interview with Speaker Straus at UT Austin last week. You’ll find the whole thing plus clips in a post from last weekend here.