Ben Philpott

Senior Reporter, State Politics and Policy

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT. He’s also co-host of The Ticket 2016, a podcast produced by KUT and the Texas Tribune covering the presidential election. Ben has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and has been named Radio Journalist of the Year by the Houston Press club four times.

Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.

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Texas Budget Having Trouble in the Senate

Senate budget writer Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) hasn't been able to round up the votes he needs to get the Senate's version of the state budget to the floor for debate. Remember the Senate has what's called the two-thirds rule, which means each bill must get the support of two thirds of the chamber before lawmakers even get a chance to try to pass it.

Graphic courtesy the Texas Public Policy Foundation

The Texas Senate is expected to vote on its version of the state budget this week. Their plan spends about $12 billion more than the House, including increased spending in education and healthcare. A raucous House/Senate conference committee is expected, as the two sides try to work out the differences.

Photo by KUT News

Good morning Austin! We here at the KUT Sunday Morning Round-Up hope you have a nice day planed. Just make sure you don't do any charcoal grilling (propane is o.k.) and don't "smoke-em-if-you-got-em" if you're in a park today. The city's burn ban will remain in place until conditions change.

That means rain and less wind basically. We may get that rain component tomorrow. The forecast is calling for a 50% chance of rain Monday.

Photo Courtesy the Texas Tribune for KUT News

Comptroller Susan Combs is continuing to clean up the privacy mess her office made when it exposed the Social Security numbers and birth dates of about 3.5 million Texans. In a press release, Combs said her office had negotiated a 2nd discounted credit monitoring subscription for those affected by the security breach.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune for KUT News

Texans affected by an internet security breach by the Comptroller's office are now being targeted by a new telephone scam. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott released a statement today saying a state employee reported to the AG that they received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the Employees Retirement System of Texas.

Photo by KUT News

Political battles are often fought on the right or left of a topic.  But today ideology was divided by the North and South sides of the Capitol.  

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So what does cutting the state's public education budget by about $7.8 billion dollars look like?

Based on a bill by Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), it looks pretty ugly. But he says with the amount of money lawmakers in the House just voted to give to schools during the state budget debate, there's not a pretty way to get money to schools.

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A bill in the Texas House that hopes to reduce head injuries in middle and high school athletics received initial approval today. The bill by Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-San Benito) would prohibit the use of all football helmets in use 16 years.  It would also require any 10-year-old helmets to be reconditioned at least once every 10 years.

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O.K...Maybe "tackle" was NOT the right word to use on this bill, because the bill passed without ANY debate. Rep. Sid Miller's bill passed 137 - 9.

The proposal wasn't exactly a new idea. The bill passed the House in 2009, but never got a hearing in the Senate, according to Rep. Miller (R-Stephenville).

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

If you're watching the Texas House budget debate today - don't blink.  

While it took about 16 hours to get through the first three articles of the budget Friday, lawmakers are zooming through their debate on the remaining parts of the budget.  

Many amendments are simply being withdrawn - or moved to Article XI in the budget.  That's the place were projects without funding go to hang out just in case money can be found to fund them.  

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The Texas House has ended debate for the night on the state budget.  Lawmakers were able to get through the first 3 articles of the $164 billion bill - that includes general government (I), health and human services (II) and education (III).

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House Democrats aren't the only ones not happy about the spending cuts made in that chamber's version of the state budget.  ADAPT of Texas, a grassroots disability rights group, has a full protest on the 2nd floor landing right outside the House chamber.  Their chants have been heard over the last couple of hours anytime the debate in chambers hits a lull.  The ADAPT website lists several reasons for their opposition to the things the group says the bill does:

Photo courtesy the Texas Tribune for KUT News

Family planning was the target in in Article II of the budget. The Windham School District (an education system run in state prisons) appears to be the piggy bank for Article III. The first three amendments take about $1.1 million from Windham to pay for other educational programs. The fourth takes sweeps the entire Windham budget, $84 million, for other programs.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

The House is taking up the 371 pre-filed state budget amendments article by article.  There are 11 articles in the budget, although Article 11 is mostly a repository for projects that are not going to get funding. 

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The Texas House is off and running this morning on HB 1, the state budget bill. The $164 billion dollar budget is about $23 billion less than the budget passed in the 2009 legislative session. It also does not take into account population and enrollment growth in many state agencies and programs, like K-12 public education.

Photo by Ryland Barton for KUT News

Because Texas doesn’t have enough money to run the state for the rest of the fiscal year, legislators gave initial approval to HB 275 today, authorizing a $3.1 billion withdrawal from the so-called rainy day fund to help  pay for a more than $4 billion supplemental appropriation. That bill is also set for final passage on Friday.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune for KUT News

With lawmakers ready to cut around $23 billion from the state budget - any ideas that could raise revenue are going to get a listen. Casino and Racino (that's a horse track casino) interests are at the Texas Capitol this morning trying to convince lawmakers to take the money and jobs they can offer.

Photo by KUT News

Getting in to the Texas Capitol has been a bit of an issue during the 2011 Texas Legislative session.  Last year, metal detectors and x-ray machines were installed at each entrance to the building.  Anyone who isn't a lawmaker, staff member, or state concealed handgun license(CHL) holder, must now stop - and go through an airport-like checkpoint - before heading on to any office, committee hearing, or floor debate.  

Map courtesy Texas Legislative Council

The House Redistricting Committee has begun taking testimony on what the state's new House district map should look like. Based on 2010 Census data it looks like rural West Texas is going to lose representation. While the population growth in South and Central Texas counties means those areas will gain a few seats.