June 21, 2009
As legislative watchers know, checks and balances go out the window for three weeks after every legislative session.
During this “veto period,” the Governor can reject whatever legislation he wants – no matter how popular it is among those folks elected to legislate – and we don’t have the ability to come back into session and override his veto.
It can be a dispiriting and irritating time – you work all year (or all biennium) on good legislation, building support and making revisions to reflect different viewpoints and answer various concerns, only to see the effort obliterated by one person’s objections.
It would be different if legislators were aware of those objections early – or even late – in a session, when we could re-write bills to address whatever problems the Governor had with them. But that’s not the way it works, and a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to come back into session to override vetoes didn’t pass this year.
Arguably the best known, and most rightfully lamented, of the vetoed bills was an initiative to improve pre-kindergarten and early childhood education in Texas. This was a very conservative investment that would have been a tremendous benefit to help get kids ready to learn and contribute to the economy.
Bafflingly, the Governor also vetoed a bill that would have protected Texans from those who make money unfairly or deceptively selling annuities. Not one legislator, at any stage of the process and in either the House or Senate, voted against the bill.
In his veto statement, the Governor is clearly more worried about the insurance companies and agents than the victims themselves. Given the legislature’s inability to pass even basic consumer protections this session, insurance ratepayers are rightly wondering if they’ll ever get a break under this leadership.
Also, and this shows so much chutzpah that I still can’t believe it, the Governor vetoed a bill prohibiting TxDOT from actively advertising their toll roads.
Again, the bill passed unanimously at nearly every step (it passed 132-1 on the House floor). And all it says is TxDOT can’t spend taxpayer money influencing public opinion about toll roads.
Now, I’m a believer in transportation solutions. And because the state hasn’t given us any tools but toll roads to address Central Texas’ huge traffic problems, I’ve voted to get people out of traffic the only way we can.
But I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate, particularly on such a controversial issue, for TxDOT to be actively influencing public opinion about something that’s amounted to a political agenda for years. Isn’t that the Governor’s job these days?
Expect to read more about these and other vetoes in the months ahead. I fear that some will have some tragic real-world consequences.
The veto list also includes five bills that I authored or sponsored. All of them passed unanimously or nearly unanimously through the legislature. And I had no sense during the session, despite pretty frequent contacts with the Governor’s office and staff, that he was concerned about them enough to just kill them. (In fact, I was affirmatively assured he would NOT veto one that he did.)
On one bill, designed to help parents send their kids to college, he cited a drafting error. On the others, the reasons were strict policy or political issues that shouldn’t have come as a surprise – in fact, given the widespread support from both parties, I strongly believe I could have addressed his issues and ensured that this legislation would go to work helping Texans.
The Governor vetoed a bill supported by an incredible range of children’s advocates – Republicans and Democrats – that would have protected Texas kids from abuse and neglect without granting new powers to the state (click here to see my response to the veto).
And he blocked two bills that would have allowed for more affordable housing in Austin. One was vetoed because it allowed a study – let me repeat, a study – of programs that might provide some relief to homeowners when the property tax bill overwhelmed their ability to pay it.
Apparently, tax breaks are great, but only when they amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for the likes of Countrywide Financial and Washington Mutual – not when they could help individual families struggling with a tough economy and tax bills that never seem to get any smaller, no matter what the state promises them.
Regardless, the bill would have required only that we study programs to help homeowners; any solutions would still need to be approved by the legislature down the road. I’d think that given the apparent failure to provide meaningful tax relief to homeowners three years ago – with property tax declines that few everyday Texans can see and a new business tax that is somehow hurting small businesses and not bringing in enough money – the state would want to explore new options and look before it leaps.
But, of course, the Governor didn’t ask my opinion. Why bother, when you can just kill the bill?
Tomorrow, Liz and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We met more than 40 years ago in elementary school and started dating in high school in the early ’70s.
So, when it comes to somebody vetoing my opinion and me having no ability to override it, I’ve learned to get over it pretty quickly.
Liz and Kirk, circa 1974