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Senate Finance committee does its thing again

I wouldn’t call the pace of this special session “fast”, but they do have the ball rolling, starting with the Senate Finance committee as they re-approve a budget, or at least a budget figure.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 10-1 to approve the bill. The full Senate could vote [Friday] on the legislation. The House Appropriations Committee wants to pass the measure on Saturday, sending it to the full House for consideration early next week.

I’m not sure which bill is being referred to here. SB1 and SB2 are the two budget-related bills that were on Thursday’s Senate calendar; there was no House calendar for June 2. SB1 passed 10-3, with one present not voting and one absent. SB2 passed 12-2 with one absent. I don’t know if this was transcription error that should have been caught by an editor or if I’m down a rabbit hole somewhere.

GOP leaders said it would be impossible to get the two-thirds legislative vote needed to spend more from the $6.4 billion in uncommitted rainy day funds, even though a former lawmaker who helped create it in the 1980s testified that it was meant specifically to ensure public education funding did not get cut during hard times.

“The original intent of the rainy day fund was to deal precisely with the circumstances that we are in right now,” Paul Colbert, a former Houston legislator and public education committee chairman, told the House Appropriations Committee.

Colbert said the savings account never was intended to be used to deal with natural disasters – for which Gov. Rick Perry has insisted it be saved.

“It was intended specifically to make sure that we would not make cuts to public education,” Colbert said.

Now it’s just going to be used for the hot check that was written by underfunding Medicaid. Make no mistake, we will use more of the Rainy Day fund for this biennium. We’re just using it in as inefficient and dishonest a manner as possible, because the GOP just doesn’t care to do it any differently. Just look at the attitude that was expressed towards those who made it on such short notice to testify.

“You have a choice to use your savings but you are choosing not to,” Sue Diegaard, who has two children in Houston public schools, told the House Appropriations Committee. “You cut $4 billion from public education, and you expect us to think it’s a gift.”

Carol Fletcher, a Pflugerville schools trustee, said her district, which has more than 50 percent of its students on reduced-cost lunch plans, is already one of the lowest-funded in Central Texas and more cuts will hurt.

Comparing her district to a car, “Right now, we’re driving a ’72 Ford Pinto, not a Cadillac,” Fletcher said.

After hearing several witnesses urge lawmakers to use the reserve Ogden pointed his finger and told them to forget it.

“Hope is not a plan,” Ogden said shortly before the bill passed the committee.

Ogden tried during the regular session to rally support for spending the reserve fund, but was fiercely opposed by Gov. Rick Perry and other Senate and House Republicans.

“I’m saddened that we gave up so easily,” said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Ogden also said he doesn’t believe what he called threats of “draconian” cuts to local schools.

“We’re not cutting school budgets,” Ogden said. “We’re just not giving them as much money as they think they are entitled to.”

I have no earthly clue what Ogden means by that. I can’t think of any interpretation of the facts that lends itself to that conclusion. In addition, the Texas Progressive Alliance documented over 12,000 jobs lost from a small fraction of Texas’ school districts a month ago. How many more need to be lost before it’s taken seriously by those who could choose to do something about it?

I like the way Ed Sills described this in his daily email:

Perhaps anticipating the political fallout to come, the rhetoric on school cuts by Republicans is changing. Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has begun claiming that the spending on public schools is actually increasing and that the amount going to the Foundation School Program is billions higher than in the last budget.

Ogden is no one’s fool and he might be able to produce the asterisks to make some kind of case. But who believes the current budget is not a major break in the Legislature’s commitment to provide funding to public schools, colleges and universities, the poorest of the poor and others who depend heavily on adequate state services? Even the Republicans were conceding that the budget cuts $4 billion from public schools just a week ago. All session long, Republicans have discussed “the new normal” with regard to school funding. Just this week, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, argued that public school funding is not an entitlement. They don’t get to back out of that rhetoric now.

Yes, let’s do remember what Dan Patrick said about how we’re finally gutting cutting public education as he and his fellow travelers have wanted to do for a long time. The Republicans don’t get to have it both ways.

In the end, both SBs 1 and 2 were approved by the full Senate, so on to the House they go. Relatedly, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would allow for teacher furloughs and pay cuts. Numerous other education-related bills, some of which are budgetary in nature and some of which are not, await their turns. The Trib, Texas Politics, EoW and PDiddie have more.

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