May 17th - 8:48 pm
After a week of tense negotiations, the state’s top budget writers have approved a final deal.
The bill restores nearly $4 billion to education funding that was cut last session and sets aside $400 million for transportation. Budget committee co-chair Tommy Williams said he believes the bill is one both parties can agree on.
“It’s a tricky process to score where you are when you’re putting this together, because it’s a moving target,” Williams said. “And I don’t think there’s anybody, Republicans or Democrats, who don’t want to fund public education. We all want to fund it at the highest level with we can, that’s consistent with the other poles in the budget.”
In Friday’s episode, we break down the bill’s details with the Quorum Report‘s Scott Braddock and Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune.
The oil and gas boom in parts of South and West Texas has added to the state’s coffers, but it’s also led to serious damage on the roads to and from those areas.
One lawmaker wants to make sure that’s not overlooked before the session ends. We spoke to Sen. Carlos Uresti about his plan to make sure county roads get needed repairs.
IRS Under Fire
Just days after the acting director of the IRS was forced to hand in his resignation, he faced tough questioning before the House and Means Committee Friday.
Click the image below to see the Friday’s full episode.
May 17th - 7:22 pm
“The budget for the State of Texas demonstrates our commitment to funding our priorities while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility. I applaud the hard work of Sen. Tommy Williams, Rep. Jim Pitts, and all of our conferees for delivering a budget that cuts taxes for Texans, holds spending down, and adequately funds public education. This budget builds upon the strong foundation that has allowed the private sector to grow and create jobs in Texas and should be the model to turn our country around.” -Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
May 17th - 5:15 pm
Small beer brewers are raising a glass to a package of bills approved today in the Texas House. Lawmakers tentatively gave the go-ahead to five separate pieces of legislation aimed at helping the craft beer industry expand. The vote elicited cheers from supporters in the chamber today.
Among the changes, the law:
- Allows breweries to sell pints to tour groups
- Loosens restrictions to let breweries sell their beer directly to retail stores
- Micro-brewers can now produce more barrels of beer annually
- Overhauls the industry’s pricing structure
The legislation had been opposed by state distributors, who had a powerful lobbying force in the Legislature. As a compromise, brewers will have to pay a licencing fee if they sell directly to consumers. Brewpubs are also limited to selling 1,000 barrels annually.
The Senate passed the bills in March. The Texas House still has to approve the bills on third reading before they head to Gov. Perry’s desk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
May 17th - 4:48 pm
Lawmakers are one step closer to approving a state budget plan. Leaders struck a deal this afternoon that would restore $3.93 billion to public education funding. At the start of the session, Democrats had been pushing to restore the $5.4 billion that was cut last legislative session. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Yvonne Davis said Friday party members are satisfied with what they were able to achieve.
The compromise also clears the way to dip $2 billion into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure projects. A separate constitutional amendment to establish a water fund still needs to be approved by the House. The deal is similar to one Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced late Thursday night.
Today marked a breakthrough after a week of tense negotiations over the two-year spending plan. The full House and Senate still need to vote on the plan, and Gov. Rick Perry has to sign off on it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
May 16th - 8:17 pm
The battle over a final budget plan continued Thursday night. Roads and education funding were major sticking points. Representative Sylvester Turner joined us to talk about where Democrats stand in the latest round of negotiations. Click the image below to hear the full interview, plus updates on the Michael Morton act and political analysis from our Capital Commentators.
May 16th - 5:12 pm
After a debate that focused mainly on minor changes, the House approved a measure to expand the number of charter school licences in Texas and change the way those schools are regulated.
House lawmakers voted 105-34 to approve Senate Bill 2. It would raise the current cap on charter schools from 215 to 275 over time and give the Texas Education Agency more power to close down poorly performing charters. The Senate bill passed last month would have raised the cap to 305 by 2019.
The main point of contention Thursday was an amendment discouraging nepotism, or the hiring of family members regardless of merit. It passed 135-7, but would only apply to charters formed after the law is enacted. Supporters of the amendment say many smaller charters were formed by families and shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few corrupt actors. Another amendment would have delayed the increase by one year while quality control measures for existing charter schools were implemented. That measure, by Rep. Sylvester Turner, failed by a vote of 52-86.
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who chairs the House Education Committee, allowed all 20 proposed amendments to be either voted on or withdrawn voluntarily.
The House is expected to give final approval to the bill tomorrow.
May 16th - 3:20 pm
The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation put out a press release this afternoon regarding the state budget process. The TPPF recognizes that budget conferees have “reached a critical point in the budget process” and is calling for spending restraint, especially in the area of education.
Talmadge Heflin, the director of the TPPF’s Center for Fiscal Policy, disputes the idea that $3.5 billion for education this session isn’t enough to meet the state’s needs, and worries putting more money in this area would hurt the possibility of tax relief legislation. The entire press release is below.
May 16th - 1:42 pm
We may learn more about where the state budget is headed this afternoon. First, Republican Gov. Rick Perry will attend a ceremony at about 2:15 p.m. to sign the Michael Morton Act. It’s possible the governor will also take the opportunity to comment on the budget negotiations that continued this morning. The conference committee tasked with finalizing the budget is meeting at 2 p.m., after which an announcement is expected.
According to Harvey Kronberg with the Quorum Report, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, the lone Democratic House member on the conference committee, said Republicans have gone back on an agreement to add almost $4 billion to education, instead changing that offer to $3.5 billion. Meantime, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus indicated that there may not be enough room to get the $3.9 billion for education Democrats want due to the spending cap.
Of course, also part of the equation is bringing House and Senate members of both parties together on a plan to draw $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund for water relief. The same budget negotiations involve a complex mix of legislation that would put approval of a revolving fund for the water money before voters, thus avoiding a budgetary conflict with the spending cap.
We expect to have Rep. Turner on this evening’s Capital Tonight to shed more light on the back-and-forth among conference committee members.
May 15th - 8:51 pm
The state’s top budget writers have been meeting behind closed doors, hammering out the final details on a two-year plan. Tuesday, we got word that lawmakers are tentatively set on $2 billion dollar water plan, but money for transportation and education remain up in the air.
MALC Turns 40
The country’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus is turning 40. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus celebrated Wednesday with a free concert at the Capitol, but a birthday wasn’t the only thing members celebrated. A new poll hints that the Latino vote could easily overcome the Republican margin of victory, but not every MALC member sees it that clearly.
President Barack Obama has announced that the head of the Internal Revenue Service will be resigning, in the wake of a scandal involving the specific targeting of Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
Sen. John Cornyn appeared on the show to talk about that and more.
May 15th - 8:29 pm
A progressive Texas group is speaking out tonight over the scandal surrounding the Internal Revenue Service. Progress Texas, a left-leaning political group, says conservatives were not the only ones subject to extra scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. But Progress Texas doesn’t take issue with the way the process was conducted.
Acting IRS director Steven Miller submitted his resignation today at the request of the White House. The agency came under fire this week for holding up tax exempt applications for groups that had words like “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names. Officials admitted that requests submitted by those groups were inappropriately singled out.
Progress Texas said its 501c tax exempt status was also subject to extra scrutiny and that they received a letter similar to the ones sent to Tea Party organizations. Progress Texas provided Capital Tonight with a copy of the nine-page request. In it, the IRS asks for details on everything from financial statements to meeting minutes and members’ political affiliations.
Progress Texas submitted its initial tax-exemption request in March of 2011. A year later, the IRS requested the addition information and tax exempt status was not approved until June of 2012. The organization says it “supports the due diligence” taken by the IRS and recognizes the government was handling a large influx of 501c applications at the time.
Executive Director Ed Espinoza released this statement today:
“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government. Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”