January 25, 2011
Once, when I was Mayor of Austin, a constituent got agitated that I was moving a little too fast with an initiative that was before the city. In a public hearing, she profoundly suggested that I needed to be taught how to walk – since, as she said in a rather derogatory tone, I only ran.
My mother happened to be staying at our house and heard this on the City of Austin public access station. When I got home, my mother was now agitated her ownself by what she considered an assault on her boy. And she said, without a hint of sarcasm, “Tell her it’s not that you never walked; it’s that you never crawled.” Ah, a mother’s love
Right now, I am, in fact, motivated about running. I’m scheduled to run in a half-marathon this coming Sunday.
For several weeks, I’ve drawn some pretty serious motivation for this race since it falls around an anniversary of sorts – the date I was originally diagnosed with cancer. In one of my endorphin stupors, I got myself all worked up about running this silly thing 20 years after my diagnosis.
In order to stay pumped up, I kept thinking about how neat it was going to be. I rolled it over and over in my mind, mile after mile. And, as sometimes happens with me, I ended up over-thinking the whole thing.
I made the mistake of checking my math – or, maybe more accurately, my 52-year-old memory. After what really shouldn’t be high-level math, I realized this is only the 19th anniversary of my diagnosis. (By the way, I have no clue where our 15-year-old Cooper gets his really excellent math skills.)
Which means I got myself all psyched up and motivated for a run that doesn’t even happen for another 12 months.
So, for this Sunday, I got nothin’. It’s going to be a long 13.1 miles.
A legislative session to numb the pain.
Let’s see. We’re two weeks into the session; 18 to go. And, by my count, we’ve got one big accomplishment on the books, a budget mess that’s finally quantifiable, and one bit of parliamentary chicanery that’s become a handy distraction from said budget mess.
And, if history is any guide, I probably have something to say about the unfortunate use of time we’re facing.
But first, some good news …
Good day for honesty
Last week, my colleagues in the Senate adopted an important part of my Honesty Agenda for fiscal transparency in the state. The Senate voted to require a vital budget document to be public for 48 hours before senators finish their work on the Texas budget, opening an important window into that huge bill.
The rule change deals with what’s known as the “Outside the Bounds” resolution for the conference committee report on the budget. It’s a wonky name for an essential budget document that isn’t nearly as well-known to Texans as it should be. Hopefully, that’s about to change.
The resolution is a legally required summary of actions taken by the “conference committee” – a group of legislators who meet late in the session (usually in private) to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. And that final budget they draft – the conference committee report – must then be passed unchanged by both chambers.
The Outside the Bounds resolution describes all of the changes that were made by the conference committee. In the past, that important road map frequently wasn’t available for as long as the draft of the final budget itself.
That translates into confusion about what’s actually in the final budget. The public – and the senators – couldn’t be certain. My proposal to do things differently won bipartisan support.
As Senator Ogden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee said, “Our rules are silent about how long that out-of-bounds resolution should lay out. I think Senator Watson rightly pointed out that the potential for a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the out-of-bounds resolution is it just kind of shows up when the chairman is recognized [on] conference committee report.”
So now, under the Senate’s new rules, the public will have at least two days to go through this document and really know what’s in that final budget draft.
For more on the issue, check out my statement and summary of what happened here.
As for good news regarding either the budget or the Senate rules … that’s pretty much it.
The Bad News Budget – more than one deficit
The House of Representatives put out their preliminary budget last week, and theSenate’s came out Monday. Those dreary documents should end the denial about the fiscal crisis Texas faces.
It’s now clear that for years, the budget has been poorly managed – and those poor financial decisions will mean school closures and more kids packed into classrooms; unaffordable health cost spikes for our seniors and their families; dangerous choices about whether to cut border security, prison staffing, or community protection; and a likelihood that the Texas economy will become weaker and less competitive.
The truth is that the state should have been better prepared for these challenges, and Texans should have known much more, much sooner, about the life-changing challenges they now face.
We face not only a staggering fiscal deficit, but also a deficit of honesty and openness. Texans have to be told – starting now – exactly how the state will spend their money in this difficult time.
Obviously, no matter what, the state will have to cut spending. But as long as those in control refuse to provide this basic, common-sense transparency, I won’t – and Texans shouldn’t – support a budget that undermines the Texas economy and our ability to remain competitive. That’s exactly what this budget proposes.
It’s bad for business, bad for the middle class, and bad for Texas’s future. Luckily, there’s still time to work on it.
On the subject of time …
That budget situation sounds pretty serious, right? Like something we should be, y’know, working on right now, right?
So how is it that the Senate instead is tied up in its biannual knots over the once-every-two-years, very partisan debate about whether the state should restrict voting access?
Last week, the Senate Republicans voted to re-adopt a set of rules that treat legislation dealing with voting requirements differently from every other bill we work on – allowing those bills to be brought to a vote more easily than any and all other bills. Among other things, this allows the majority to ram the bill through without even attempting to negotiate improvements that might make it better for all Texans.
On cue, the Governor put the issue near the top of the list of so-called emergencies, allowing the legislature to take it up sooner. And then, also on cue, the Lieutenant Governor late last week announced a hearing for the bill this week, teeing it up for incredibly quick passage.
Now, as I suggested, I think this bill is an unfortunate bit of legislation that distracts us from things that need our attention and ignores the tough issues facing hard-working Texans.
So, in tha
t spirit, I’m just going to link to something I wrote about the issue a couple of years ago. It pretty much still applies (though this year’s version will take an even bigger bite out of Texans’ voting rights).
This bill, still, makes it harder for honest people to vote. And it’s still wrong, no matter what happens this week.