Advocates for the public schools, health care and other important public services who may have tried to find encouragement from Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden’s pledge to hold firm in budget negotiations with the House better not get their hopes up too high.
I don’t doubt that Ogden will try. He has tried, after all, to exercise more realistic, adult leadership than any of his Republican colleagues during the protracted budget debate. But in his negotiations with House budget conferees, he will be fighting recent history as well as a rockheaded determination from the House majority and the governor’s office to bleed state government and all it supports, including the public schools.
During the David Dewhurst era as lieutenant governor, the Senate has not fared well in key deliberations with the House. Dewhurst and his Senate negotiators, for example, blinked in 2003 and caved in to thenHouse Speaker Tom Craddick’s demands that tuition deregulation be part of the budget deal. Since then, tuition has soared as higher education budgets have tightened.
Craddick also used to give Dewhurst fits over school finance, among other things. Granted, Craddick isn’t speaker anymore, and Joe Straus isn’t as autocratic. But Craddick’s leadership has been replaced by a Republican supermajority in the House, strongly supported by a governor who wants to cut, cut, cut.
Moreover, Dewhurst already has signaled that he may not be prepared to go to the mat with Ogden in support of the Senate bill. Only last week, Dewhurst publicly abandoned Ogden’s efforts to spend more Rainy Day money on the Senate budget, a move that cost Ogden any hope of Democratic support for the bill in the Senate chamber.
Even if by some miracle (which won’t happen), Ogden were able to save every dollar in the Senate budget in his negotiations with the House, the people of Texas still would be confronted with an awful state budget. The Senate version may not be as severe as the House’s, but it still would cut deeply into important services and would cut $4 billion from the public schools alone.
It still would be the first budget in at least 27 years that doesn’t fully fund school formulas and cover enrollment growth.
As TSTA President Rita Haecker noted yesterday, Texans should demand that legislators “throw both bills into the trash and start over.”