Let the Games Begin: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, January 20, 2017

As the week ends with a historically unique presidential succession, politics in Texas have a more familiar ring as set pieces of the legislative session play out safely removed from that nasty Washington, D.C. swamp. Kind of. The week saw attempted mobilization of interest groups in the continuing efforts to shape the agenda, budgetary politics between the two chambers of the Legislature, fuel for the never-ending speculation on the next election cycle in Texas, the unveiling of committee assignments in the Senate, and a ruling in the running court battle over Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid in Texas.

1. Speaker Straus weighed in on SB 6 this week. Given an opportunity to preach to the choir at a Texas Association of Business event, the Speaker expressed his own skepticism toward SB6, the so-called “privacy bill.” TAB has gone all in against the bill despite high-profile support by the Lt. Governor. The Speaker’s view that “we should be very careful about doing something that can make Texas less competitive for investment, jobs and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete” earned some headlines as well, and points to more important undertones in the politics around SB 6 in the Republican coalition. R.G. Ratcliffe included what sounds like a bootlegged audio recording of Straus’ speech in his report at the Texas Monthly site. The Speaker’s comments on the bill are interesting (as are his other remarks on the budget), but the speech was also a very nice demonstration of the Speaker’s cool yet equally clear efforts to mobilize the business corners of the Republican coalition against SB 6, saying to the assembled TAB members:

If you are concerned, and I know many of you are, now is the time to speak up.  And that goes for every bill. As I’ve told this group before, time and time again, the business community needs to be heard from.

It seems fair to put these comments in the broader context of signals coming from the House that they can’t be counted on to stop extreme legislation that originates in the Senate all by themselves.

While SB 6 hasn’t been in existence long enough for us to assess public opinion on the specific bill, the most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that attitudes on transgender access to public facilities was closely divided, as the graphic of the topline result presented below illustrates. Claims that this result suggests broad support for SB 6 should be tempered by the fact that the narrow majority is largely defined by the lopsided attitudes of Republicans, 76 percent of whom think that birth gender rather than gender identification should determine access to public restrooms. We’ll have more to say about polling on this issue at a later date, but the short version of it is this: no one has actually publicly polled on SB6 yet, despite what you may have heard, save for some message testing that seems likely to have actually shaped the writing of the bill.

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Their birth gender51%
Their gender identity31%
Don't know/No opinion18%

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Their birth gender26%46%76%
Their gender identity50%30%14%
Don't know/No opinion24%24%10%

2. That’s a big number! Amidst the mixture of ceremony and jockeying for position during the first week of the 85th Legislature, both Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick released campaign finance reports that showed both with healthy campaign accounts, though the Governor with one that is pretty ginormous after an excellent second half of 2016. While there are many ways to gauge the relative positions of the Governor and Lt. Governor, at this point polling data and bank accounts don’t provide much grounds for expecting a meaningful challenge to Greg Abbott in 2018. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Abbott had been underperforming as governor relative to Lt. Governor Patrick’s aggressive effort to reinvigorate his office after the Perry-Dewhurst years. Regular readers of Quorum Report might have a different impression, but it certainly seems like (a) one session and an interim is not enough time to definitively judge the relative successes of the new leadership, and (b) there was bound to be some reversion to the historical and constitutional baseline of the relative and absolute influence of the two offices after the inarguably exceptional Perry-Dewhurst years. This bears watching, but these numbers suggest that some of the whispering sisters around the Capitol have jumped to some premature conclusions, at least based on verifiable available evidence (not to be too old fashioned about things like “evidence”).

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Approve strongly21%
Approve somewhat21%
Neither approve nor disapprove17%
Disapprove somewhat10%
Disapprove strongly23%
Don't know8%

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Approve strongly1%10%42%
Approve somewhat11%21%33%
Neither approve nor disapprove18%21%14%
Disapprove somewhat16%13%3%
Disapprove strongly46%26%2%
Don't know8%8%7%

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Approve strongly12%
Approve somewhat19%
Neither approve nor disapprove20%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly22%
Don't know18%

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Approve strongly1%7%23%
Approve somewhat6%16%33%
Neither approve nor disapprove21%23%19%
Disapprove somewhat10%11%7%
Disapprove strongly42%28%3%
Don't know20%16%15%

3. Those are even bigger numbers! The House and Senate released their initial budget proposals this week and there’s lot’s of places that you can go to read about each. A quick summary looks something like this: The Senate 2-year base budget proposal is $213.4 billion compared to $221.3 billion for the House proposal (point of reference: the last base budget was $209.4 billion). That includes federal dollars. Among the money that they actually have control over, the two chambers are about $5.3 billion apart, with the Senate slightly below Comptroller Hegar’s revenue estimate ($104.9 billion) at $103.6 billion and the House about $4 billion over the revenue estimate at $108.9 billion. Not to be gauche, but let’s start with the obvious areas of conflict: 

  • Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) hinted upon the release of the House budget, which exceeds the revenue estimate, that this might be the time to tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund, an approach which the Lt. Governor explicitly rejected in his appearance at the Austin Club last week.
  • On public education, the Senate bill increases funding by $2.65 billion to account for enrollment growth of 80,000 per year; the House bill increases funding based on enrollment growth of 165,000 per year, and would kick in another $1.5 billion if the lege reforms school finance.
  • On border security, the Senate would maintain the $800 million approved in the last session, but doesn’t appear to heed to the DPS request for another infusion of cash; the House would decrease funding to $663 million.
  • On Medicaid, the Senate bill decreases funding by just under a billion dollars, leaving $61.2 billion in funding – which takes no account for projected growth (read: next session’s problem), while the House bill increases funding by just under a billion dollars, bringing total funding to $65.1 billion.

Both the House and Senate have agreed to the $260 million dollar infusion into Child Protective Services. Expect some to look at these numbers and question how committed Texas is to its conservative principles because both base budgets are larger than last year’s, but this would be to ignore a starkly tight-fisted approach in both chambers. The Senate budget makes an across the board 1.5 percent budget reduction and as noted above, doesn’t increase public education funding beyond enrollment growth. More to the point, after accounting for population growth and inflation, the Senate plan cuts spending by 7.9 percent while the House plan cuts spending by 5.6 percent, per Sean Collins Walsh in the Austin American Statesman. We await corrections of fact and interpretation – the budget isn’t our main thing. In a much safer move, we’ve compiled a table comparing the proposed House and Senate budget below courtesy of the Legislative Budget Board, and for convenience in a shorter post.

85th Session: Proposed House and Senate Budgets (in millions)
    House Senate  
All Functions Estimated/Budgeted 2016-2017 Recommended 2018-2019 Biennial Change

Recommended 2018-2019

Biennial Change 2018-2019 Difference (House - Senate)
Article I - General Government $3,345.5 $3,280.3 -$65.2 $3,258.9 -$86.6


Article II - Health & Human Services $33.621.7 $34,628.6 $1,006.9 $32,596.0 $164.3


Article III - Agencies of Education $56,283.7 $56,882.8 $599.1 $54,696.4 -$1,587.3


Public Education $41.594.1 $42,018.4 $424.3 $40,522.4 -$1,071.8


Higher Education $14,689.6 $14,864.4 $174.8 $14,174.0 -$515.6


Article IV - The Judiciary $503.3 $508.8 $5.6 $503.6 $0.3


Article V - Public Safety & Criminal Justice $11,534.7 $11,425.8 -$108.9 $11,556.1 $21.4


Article VI - Natural Resources $835.0 $853.0 $17.9 $769.1 -$65.9


Article VII - Business & Economic  Dev. $1,176.9 $553.4 -$623.5 $553.3 -$623.6


Article VIII - Regulatory $337.1 $344.1 $6.9 $339.3 $2.2


Article IX - General Provisions $0.0 $0.0 $0.0 -$1,058.0 -$1,058.0


Article X - The Legislature $400.8 $384.1 -$16.7 $387.7 -$13.1


Total, All Articles $108,038.7 $108,860.9 $822.1 $103,602.3 -$3,246.3 $5,258.6

Source: Legislative Budget Board


4. The Senate announced its committees this week,  we posted a table that lets you compare this session’s composition to last, with all the relevant changes noted.

5. Judge Sparks says “Not so fast.” On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks delayed the state’s plan to oust Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program. If you’ve been following the court proceedings over the last few days, this intermediary outcome shouldn’t surprise. The judge’s skepticism about the state’s “evidence,” which appears to have been limited to the discredited videos released last year that led to the indictment of the videographers rather than Planned Parenthood (the videographers were ultimately acquited), made for a lack of suspense in the absence of some new, hard evidence of misconduct. But even had their been misconduct in the separate business entity that performs abortions, others having already pointed out that saying you’ll defund Planned Parenthood is a lot easier than actually doing it based on current law. But the state presses on. And it’s not surprising that they have, nor will it be surprising if they continue, to look to the women’s health and abortion provider as a target without the regular foil of a Democrat in the White House on account of attitudes toward the organization in the various quarters of the GOP coaltion.

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Very favorable36%25%6%
Somewhat favorable26%19%7%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%14%10%
Somewhat unfavorable8%6%12%
Very unfavorable6%26%63%
Don't know/no opinion5%10%2%

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Very favorable52%22%8%
Somewhat favorable28%23%7%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%20%11%
Somewhat unfavorable3%10%10%
Very unfavorable3%14%63%
Don't know/no opinion1%11%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable42%11%2%
Somewhat favorable25%8%8%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable18%15%7%
Somewhat unfavorable7%13%6%
Very unfavorable5%52%77%
Don't know/no opinion2%1%0%


To mark the inauguration of the new President, we gathered items on Texans’ views of Donald Trump in a post earlier this week

Last week, instead of broad round-up, we gathered all the polling we could dig out that related to Lt. Governor Patrick’s enumerated list of priorities, which you might have missed going into the holiday weekend. We look forward to doing the same should the Governor and the Speaker issue such clear lists.  

Soon-to-be Secretary of Energy Rick Perry keeps on giving.