Saturday, June 04, 2005

Austin Chronicle—Forgotten but Not Quite Gone

June 3, 2005
The 79th Legislature ends not with a bang, but lots of whimpers

Don't think for a moment that you've seen the last of the lawmakers, what with all the hints this week of a possible return engagement for another crack at school finance – or rather, property tax reduction. So enjoy the reprieve while you can. As with most sessions, the 79th Legislature had its share of highs and lows – the lowest point, the night Democratic Rep. Joe Moreno was killed driving back to Austin from a Rockets-Mavericks playoff game in Houston. As for the high points, that depends on where you stand. Many of us are still relishing that five-hour debate leading up to the death of private school vouchers. It provided one of those rare moments (these days) of Republicans and Democrats teaming up to defeat bad public policy. Another unpredictable alliance had reformist Dems and social conservatives coming together to successfully thwart persistent efforts (mostly from the GOP leadership) to expand the state's gambling footprint.

In his post-session assessment on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry put his best spin on his 2005 legislative agenda – which he had originally declared would be judged on property tax cuts and school finance reform. Oh, well. On other fronts, Perry got what he sought on lowering workers' compensation costs, curbing "frivolous" asbestos lawsuits, and requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions. And he got some, but not all, of what he wanted in the way of funding for child and adult protective services, his pet Enterprise Fund, and his new Emerging Technology Fund (maybe next session we'll see an Emerging and Enterprising Video Slot Machine Fund). Concerning his losses – in addition to coming up short on school finance and vouchers, Perry lost his bid to lower the cap on property appraisals, in large measure because of loud and effective opposition from local municipalities and counties.

The big losers, of course, were neither Perry nor the Lege – but Texas schools, children, and teachers, who will spend yet another biennium waiting for the state "leadership" to recognize the obvious: that Texas public schools are woefully underfunded.

As of press time, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had not offered her own review of Perry's legislative performance. Rest assured we'll be hearing from her soon enough – in her official capacity, as she and her staff review the budget and assorted revenue bills to determine whether projected revenues will match planned expenditures. And in her unofficial capacity, as she (and perhaps Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) determine whether Perry is now more vulnerable to a 2006 Republican primary challenge.

What follows in the "Lege Wrap-Up" is a quick recap by the Chronicle news staff of bills that lived and died this session.

Copyright © 2005 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.


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