Senate Filibuster Threatens Texas Budget
A filibuster in the Texas Senate Sunday night appears to have killed a bill lawmakers needed to help balance the state budget and cut funding to public schools. The same bill was able to pass the House Sunday, only to get stuck in the Senate. And since Monday is the final day of the regular legislative session, a special session appears inevitable.
Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) ended her 75 minute filibuster reading a list of how much each of the more than 12,000 Texas school districts would lose in funding if proposed budget cuts were allowed to become law. She only got to the “B’s” before midnight. She started her efforts reading letters from constituents asking for additional school funding.
“I did my part, the small part I could play, in stopping a failed public policy because I’m listening to those voices and I know that we can do better and that we must do better,” Davis said.
Her short filibuster has all but ended chances to pass a bill that would have given lawmakers $2.5 billion needed to help balance the budget – along with making about $4 billion in cuts to the state’s public schools. Without the bill, Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) says it’s hard to certify the state’s entire budget for the next two years.
“You have to have these as revenue in order for the budget to balance,” Shapiro said, “They were perfectly matched – ready to balance. And without these pieces the budget doesn’t balance.”
Another concern for lawmakers from both parties is what will happen in a special legislative session to fix the budget. Would it only focus on school spending or start from the beginning? And if everything is reopened could that lead to outcomes worse than those Sen. Davis worked to block Sunday? The current budget bill spent more than the House originally passed. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst told reporters he worried what could happen if the House was given another chance.
“I hope that Senator Davis’ actions don’t result in less funding for our schools. I hope that this doesn’t get re-opened in the House,” Dewhurst said, “so I’m very disappointed.”
If the school finance bill is indeed dead for this session, Governor Rick Perry’s office says he’ll call lawmakers back as early as Tuesday for a special session to fix the budget. Any extra session would most likely include other bills, such as the Governor’s emergency items for the session, including a so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. Democrats don’t think that bill merited “emergency” status. But Representative Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) doesn’t care what the governor calls an emergency, as long as actual emergencies like public school funding aren’t left off the list.
“The lack of putting this on the agenda so that we’re down here at the last night,” Hochberg said, “trying to pass this with a gun to our heads, that’s not leadership and that’s bad for the people of Texas.”
The school finance bill has one more chance in the Senate Monday. It would take a 4/5ths vote of Senators to suspend the Senate’s rules and take up the bill.