Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Another crack at top 10 percent law

By Jason Embry | Wednesday, March 4, 2009, 07:02 AM

Bill on university admissions gets first hearing this year … Tax cut yields future deficit, just as predicted … Michael Dukakis (yes, that one) works the Legislature

House is in at 10 a.m. Senate is in at 11.

Happy 59th birthday to Gov. Rick Perry.

Austin weather from News 8 Austin’s Maureen McCann: Some morning clouds, otherwise partly sunny and warm. High of 82.

The day ahead
The Senate Higher Education Committee will meet at 8 a.m. in E1.012. At some point in the day, the committee will hear Senate Bill 175, which is Sen. Florence Shapiro’s effort to limit the number of students admitted under the rule saying students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school classes are guaranteed admission to any state university. A similar proposal made it out of the Senate in 2007 but died in the House.

Students who benefit from the top 10 percent rule have crowded admissions at the University of Texas. According to Statesman higher-ed guru Ralph Haurwitz, UT officials say that by 2013 they will have to reject all Texas students who are not in the Top 10 percent of their class. UT President Bill Powers and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa are expected to testify in favor of Shapiro’s legislation, which would cap at 50 percent the share of a freshman class that could be admitted under the law.

Such a cap is popular in suburban areas such as Shapiro’s hometown of Plano, where parents say students who are plenty capable of succeeding at UT and want to go there, but did not finish in the top 10 percent in high school, must go out of state or to a private school.

Shapiro’s got a busy day in front of her. At 1:30 p.m. she will hold a press conference to announce the filing of two bills intending to strengthen career and technology programs (read: programs in high schools and colleges for students who won’t get four-year degrees from universities).

The Senate Transportation Committee will meet at 8 a.m. in E1.016. Among the bills that will be heard is SB 220, a proposal by Sen. Robert Nichols that would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from turning a free highway or highway lane into a toll road or tolled lane. The committee will also look at SB 384, which is Chairman John Carona’s effort to stop TxDOT from using its marketing and advertising dollars to influence public opinion about the use of toll roads.

Click here to check out other Senate committee agendas.

Click here for today’s House committee meetings.

Gov. Rick Perry will speak at about 7:30 a.m. at a Capitol rally for the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.

The Texas Council on Family Violence will deliver postcards to lawmakers’ offices urging full funding of violence services.

Tuesday highlights
A rather interesting discussion broke out in the House chamber about the state’s budget situation and how federal stimulus dollars might fit in.

House leaders said the Legislative Budget Board is projecting an $8 billion “structural deficit” in the budget that lawmakers will have to write in the 2011 session, due in large part to the fact that in 2006 the state cut way more in property taxes than it raised in business and other taxes. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone who was looking at the numbers at the time — Perry promised a multibillion-dollar net tax cut, and even though it hasn’t felt that way to many homeowners, that’s what Texas got. Also in 2006, lawmakers increased education spending by a couple billion dollars, which added to the cost of the property-tax cut.

But back to this session. There was this key exchange Tuesday between Warren Chisum, the Appropriations Committee chairman in 2007, and Jim Pitts, the Appropriations chairman this year, about how the stimulus dollars would fit into the appropriations bill:

Chisum: “You’re going to have some in the supplemental (appropriations) bill?”

Pitts: “That is correct.”

Chisum: “And you’re going to have some in the general appropriations bill?”

Pitts: “That is correct.”

Chisum: “Are we going to know if we’re entering into some of kind of long-term deal as created by this stimulus package, that we may have to fund in the out years, when the stimulus package has virtually evaporated?”

Pitts: “The intent of Appropriations is to use the stimulus package (for) one-time only items.”

Chisum: “And how are you going to make that one-time only?”

Pitts: “Well, we will do maintenance projects to highways that are specifically one-time only.”

Chisum: “But not all of it goes to highways, right?”

Pitts: “No.”

Chisum: “You’re going to have a lot of health and human services.”

Pitts: “It’s going to be in every article (of the bill).”

Chisum: “You’re going to have a program that increases services out there to the citizens, and yet if the stimulus package runs out, we’re going to cut those back, right?”

Pitts: “That is correct. It is our intention to not expand any programs.”

Pitts sounded an awful lot like Gov. Rick Perry in his answers, and Perry has taken a lot of heat for saying the stimulus money shouldn’t be used to extend programs, so it will be interesting to see where this goes.

Elsewhere Tuesday, officials with the Dallas Fed said Texas could lose 300,000 jobs this year and unemployment could jump to 8 percent. That’s worse than others have projected, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis walked the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday to talk to lawmakers about drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, according to the Statesman’s Mike Ward.

Tweet of the Day: “Texas Attorney General Abbott office hands down a positive opinion on my bill proposal on illegal immigrants. Check Facebook.” — Sen. Dan Patrick.

In the news
“Even though the Texas Youth Commission’s incarcerated population has dropped by almost half in two years, the annual cost of locking up juvenile offenders in Texas has climbed to almost $99,000 per inmate — a 66 percent jump since 2006.” Austin American-Statesman

“Democratic lawmakers asked Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday to accept unemployment money in the federal stimulus package even though that would mean expanding the program, which he opposes.” Associated Press

“What some Democrats haven’t figured out yet is that (Tom) Schieffer brings two potential gifts for the state party: He can raise enough cash to discourage Democratic challengers, keeping the party’s March primary positive while Republican Gov. Rick Perry swaps mud with challenger U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; And he can bring business moderates, particularly those who support public schools, back to the Democratic side.” Bud Kennedy

“I’m worried. We’ve just elected a talented young president with many good instincts about how to propel our country forward, extend health care to more people, make our tax code fairer and launch a green industrial revolution. But do you know what I fear? I fear that his whole first term could be eaten by Citigroup, A.I.G., Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and the whole housing/subprime credit bubble we inflated these past 20 years.” Thomas Friedman

“In the early days of any administration, reporters reach out to the men and women who might become their sources over the next four years — then slather them with glowing profiles suitable for framing in their mothers’ bedrooms.” Politico

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