Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, presiding officer of the Texas Senate and self-styled “bold” leader, today threatened to block must-pass bills and force a special session of the Legislature if his own priorities are not enacted before the regular session ends May 29. Patrick devoted a morning press conference to blasting House Speaker Joe Straus for the House’s failure to pass the Senate’s property-tax caps on cities and counties or the Senate’s proposal for state rather than local regulation of transgender students’ bathroom use. Patrick also said the Senate will not pass the much-needed House Bill 21 to increase school funding unless the House swallows his “poison pill” voucher program targeting students with disabilities, which the Senate Education Committee has inserted into HB 21 while stripping out the House-proposed state funding increase.
Speaker Straus was quick to reply to the lieutenant governor’s ultimatum with a sharply worded written statement rejecting Patrick’s claims and deploring the threat of a deadlock leading to a special session. Straus said:
Governor Patrick’s threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way is regrettable, and I hope that he reconsiders. The best way to end this session is to reach consensus on as many issues as we can. Nobody is going to get everything they want. But we can come together on many issues and end this session knowing that we have positively addressed priorities that matter to Texas.
Straus also dissected the fallacies of Patrick’s argument about taxes and education funding. Straus wrote:
Governor Patrick talked about the importance of property-tax relief. The Texas House is also concerned about property taxes, which is why we approved House Bill 21 to address the major cause of rising property-tax bills: local school taxes. As it passed the House, this legislation would begin to reduce our reliance on local property taxes in funding education. Nobody can claim to be serious about property-tax relief while consistently reducing the state’s share of education funding. The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour. The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education–a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April. The House is also serious about providing extra and targeted assistance for students with disabilities. This is why we put extra money in House Bill 21 to help students with dyslexia. We also overwhelmingly passed House Bill 23 to provide grants for schools that work with students who have autism and other disabilities. The Lieutenant Governor has not referred that bill to a Senate committee.
One suspects that Lt. Gov. Patrick got more than he bargained for, in a negative sense, from this day’s frank exchange of views with Speaker Straus. Gov. Greg Abbott, who was something of a secondary target of Patrick’s attack, also offered the lieutenant governor scant support for his threat to force a special session. While expressing sympathy for the top two priorities Patrick identified, Gov. Abbott through a spokesman also suggested that the House and Senate can get all necessary work done within the confines of the regular session.
Based on the latest edition of the Senate floor calendar, the Senate could be voting by Friday to send Patrick’s “poison pill” voucher version of House Bill 21 back to the House with a take-it-or-leave it message. You can help make sure the Senate vote for that toxic voucher scheme does not come easily. Send a letter from the Texas AFT legislative-action site urging senators to strip the voucher program out of the bill and to get serious about fixing a broken school-finance system. The time to act is now!