Wednesday, April 06, 2005

House budget bills to be debated today - making for a very, very long day

CSSB 1 [PDF] would increase spending for fiscal years (FY) 2006 and 2007 by 8.6 percent over the current biennium.

CSSB 1 would increase spending by:
-$5.3 billion for public education - 15.2 percent increase;
-$4.4 billion for Health and Human Services - 10.1 percent increase;
-$536 million for higher education - 3.2 percent increase; and
-$2.9 billion for business and economic development - 18.4 percent increase.

Would decrease spending by:
-$103 million for natural resources - 4.4 percent decrease.

Comparison: The budget proposal under CSSB 1 is $1.8 billion less than SB 1, which would spend a total of $139.3 billion. CSSB 1 would allocate $1 billion less than SB 1 for higher education, but CSSB 1 would allocate $2.8 billion more for public education than SB 1.

"Corporate Slush Funds": Well, at least in the words of my favorite firecracker, Rep. Garnet Coleman. The Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), which received $295 million last biennium, is slated to receive $140.7 million from CSSB 1, with the possibility of another $130 million through a contingency rider on SB 1177 - a bill that has to do with the Skills Development Holding Fund.

However, there is a handful of amendments that would strip all TEF allocations to spend on other state programs. So far, I have seen no amendments that would strip the money from the "Emerging Technologies Fund," which is a very similar fund to the TEF. The proposed fund would allocate more money to institutions of higher education for technology transfer, which is a process that brings university research to the market. Although I have yet to see one, I thought there could be an amendment to re-allocate some or all money for this fund to TEXAS Grants, since the popular grant program would be cut.

The TEXAS Grant program received $324 million in FY2004-2005, which was $188 million short of being fully funded. In 2004, 30,000 students did not receive the grant due to cuts, and roughly 49,000 students will not receive the grant this year. CSSB 1 proposes cutting TEXAS Grants by only $1.5 million, for a total allocation of nearly $323 million for FY2006-2007.

HB 10 is a supplement to the House budget, CSSB 1, which would allocate money for the state to spend immediately. HB 10 would spend $850 million from General Revenue and would re-designate $1.91 billion in money currently in the rainy day fund to spend on Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services (CPS), and public education.

Specifically, HB 10 would give:

  • $767.6 million to public education for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 - for textbooks, teacher certification, and for the health insurance passthrough through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS);

  • $735.4 million to public education for FY2006 and FY2007. TRS would also receive $200 million for health insurance for retirees for FY2006 and FY2007;

  • $1.2 billion to Medicaid;

  • $234.6 million to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP);

  • $85.6 million to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC); and

  • $382.3 million to CPS.

Both bills will be debated today on the House floor.

For-profit companies could determine future of troubled children

Child Protective Services (CPS) currently contracts certain services with private companies: 75 percent of the children in foster care, as well as adoption services. The Health and Human Services Commission recommends that the Legislature privatize some, but not all, case management services to the private sector. The HHSC is not currently considering privatizing investigations that CPS currently conducts.

UPDATE #2: However, CSSB 6, by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), would privatize almost 100% of CPS services by 2009. UPDATE #1 (thank you Kimberly) CSSB 6 would privatize all CPS services, including case management functions that are not currently performed by private agencies, except for investigations - the initial decision to remove a child from their home.

CSSB 6 would reserve that decision for CPS to make, but once removed from their home, a child's future would be determined by private companies since they would have a substantial role in determining a child's legal status, meaning if they should go back to their home, another foster home, etc. This means private - for-profit and non-profit - companies could profit off a child being removed from their home.

See CPPP's CPS policy page [PDF]

Services not currently privatized that would be under CSSB 6 include: having a role in determining the child's legal status, selecting a caregiver for the child, preparing court reports for approval by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), and attending court hearings concerning a child in child care.

Unfortunately, privatization fails to address obtaining adequate services, reducing caseloads, and reducing turnover. There is little evidence to show that full privatization would lead to increase quality of services. Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says that "nothing inherent in privatization will solve the toughest crises facing the agency: a shortage of well-trained workers, a dearth of good-quality foster homes, and insufficient social services, such as mental health and drug and alcohol counseling." It is also unclear as to how much oversight CSSB 6 would provide.

CPS costs could actually increase under CSSB 6 due to an added layer of bureaucracy - an "independent administrator" that would oversee and coordinate efforts between the state and private sector services.

McCown was also quoted: "Who might have that job? Lockheed Martin, Accenture, [and] the children's division of Enron."

CSSB 6 was voted out of committee yesterday, and it will be heard on the House floor soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Top Ten bills voted out of committee

Well in a sharp turn around of what I thought would take another few weeks, West's SB 333 and SB 936 were voted out of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee today. They will now go to the Senate Education Committee for debate.

Water conservation bill introduced Monday

SB 3 by Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) is a key piece of water conservation legislation that has taken eight years of bipartisan cooperation to produce, and many environmentalists are claiming this as a huge victory. Environmental groups are joining cattle raisers, farmers, and wildlife associations in backing this 50-year water proposal.

The management plan is necessary to assure clean water to cities and farmers over the next 35 years, when the state's population is expected to double, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said, acccording to the Dallas Morning News. Carrying out this proposal will be helped by the $15 million "Know Your Water IQ" education campaign - from the same firm that developed "Don't mess with Texas" campaign.

The most controversial part of the plan is to implement a 13 cent tax for every 1,000 gallons past the first 5,000 gallons of water for businesses and households. However, governmental and religious, educational, and public service organizations would be exempted from the proposed tax. SB 3 would also include a new fee on water for the manufacturing that is provided by a public utility. The fees would raise an estimated $125 million annually - to pay for water projects such as reservoirs and pipes, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Chris Bell, who is interested in running in the 2006 gubernatorial race, is getting in his political jabs now by declaring the 13 cent tax a "new tax on being alive," but proponents of the measure point to the fact that most households only use roughly 5,000 gallons of water per month, meaning this measure would only penalize "water hoggers."

A seemingly less controversial part of the plan would create a Water Infrastructure Fund, as a special fund outside of the treasury, which would receive revenue from Water Conservation and Development Fee and other water-related fees. The Fund would be allowed to make grants to outside entities. A statewide program would also be established to assist economically disadvantaged communities. The program would allocate grants and loans to areas that have inadequate water supply or sewer services and inadequate financial resources. Economically disadvantaged communities would be defined as an area whose median income does not exceed 75 percent of the median state household income.

The focus of the bill is to provide greater protection for Texas rivers, streams, bays, and estuaries, and this would be accomplished through new management structures. SB 3 would:

  1. Reauthorize Environmental Flows Commission (EFC), which would appoint the Texas Environmental Flows Science Advisory Committee (SAC) to monitor flow studies and methodologies for rivers, streams, bays, and estuaries. Using the recommendations of the SAC, the EFC would establish local bay/basin area stakeholder groups to address the needs of the given area.

  2. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would incorporate the work of the EFC and the SAC in the decision-making process.

  3. Create Groundwater Management Area Councils (GMACs) to provide coordination and consistency in each of the state's 16 groundwater management areas. The current Texas Water Development Board's limited "checklist" review of groundwater districts' management plans would be replaced with a plan for the TWDB and the GMACs to provide a new management framework. The framework would consist of the TWDB, GMACs, and Groundwater Conservation Districts (GWCDs) working together to implement rules in a GMA-oriented management of groundwater.

To clarify, the EFC, SAC, and TCEQ work together in one organizational matrix, and the TWDB, GMACs, and GWCDs work in another. The EFC, SAC, and TCEQ would focus on preservation of rivers, streams, bays, and estuaries, and the TWDB, GMACs, and GWCDs would deal with groundwater and aquifers, like the Edwards Aquifer.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Skills Development vs. Private Enterprise Incentives

See CPPP's policy page [PDF]

Today, the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released a new policy page on how the Senate wants to shift money away from the successful Skills Development Fund (SDF) to the controversial Texas Entreprise Fund (TEF) [PDF] for job training. Basically, it would take Texas tax dollars away from paying for current jobs to be used to attract currently out-of-state business through the TEF.

The policy page also includes a brief on SB 1177, by Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine). Contigent on the passage of SB 1177, SB 1 would transfer another $10.2 million to the SDF from the Smart Jobs Holding Fund, which would be re-named the Skills Development Holding Fund. SB 1177 would assign 0.1% of employers’ unemployment insurance tax to the new holding fund, as assessed by Texas Workforce Commission.

Other key findings by the page include:
Over the past three years, the Skills Development Fund has financed training programs for 15,559 new jobs and 28,832 incumbent jobs ... The economic impact of the Skills Development Fund amounts to an additional $72 million in statewide payroll.


Currently, the biennial appropriation for the Skills Development Fund is $24.5 million. Included in TWC's Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) was a proposal to
nearly double the Skills Development Fund appropriation level to $49.5 million for 2006-2007.


Despite the overwhelming demand for skills development, the Senate version of the 2006-07 state budget (SB 1) would reduce the SDF appropriation to $9.9 million per biennium. With a 60% reduction, TWC would only be able to train approximately 6,000 workers per year, compared to about 15,000 workers with current funding. The House budget committee’s proposal would appropriate $20 million to the Skills Development Fund.


While some monies have been designated for infrastructure and community development, the Enterprise Fund has dipped into the Skills Development Fund to secure working training for economic development projects, including at least $3 million each for the Toyota and Tyson deals. While current Skills Development funding is only 8% of the Enterprise Fund allocation, committed Enterprise Fund projects could consume up to 60% of the Senate appropriation for Skills Development.


The Enterprise Fund should assume 100% of related project costs, including worker training, either through reimbursing the Skills Development Fund or including a job-training setaside within a specific Enterprise Fund grant.

Top Ten debate shaping up

See Saturday's Houston Chronicle editorial on Top Ten

On March 30, students from the University of Texas, Texas A&M, LULAC, and UT Watch spent a few hours at the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education to testify in support of SB 333, authored by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which would add a recommended high school curriculum that would include a requirement to take more Advanced Placement classes, or an equivalent, if offered. No one testified in opposition to this bill - well, the witness list showed one who registered in opposition, but it also listed the same person as testifying in favor of the bill.

The majority of the testimonies relied on arguments that Top Ten boosts not only racial diversity but class diversity (or, what they called "geographic diversity") by having institutions of higher education admit more students from rural areas, which generally have fewer resources than schools in more urban areas. Many also pointed to recent reports, such as that by the UT Admissions Office [PDF], which show that students admitted under Top Ten succeed at a higher rate once in college than those students not admitted under the law. Table 6 of this report shows that Top Ten college students have higher GPAs than other college students.

How Texans stand: according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times, 82 percent of Texans support the current Top Ten plan.

There were also several students and community members who made appearances at the hearing to testify for SB 320, authored by Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), which would flat out repeal the law. Among those who showed up were members of the Young Conservatives of Texas. The right-leaning arguments heard for SB 320 were that universities ought to use more of a holistic approach to admitting high school students that looks at more than simply class rank.

Many pointed to the argument that students who attend highly competitive urban schools but graduate within the top eleven or twelve percent of their graduating class are unfairly discriminated against university admissions offices.

All in all, Top Ten will be a key debate during this Legislative session that is so heavily focusing on education. So far Wentworth claims he has roughly 15 senators on his side, as does West. Aside from Rep. Beverly Woolley's HB 750, which is a House companion bill to SB 320, all of the Top Ten bills will only cap the law - so these are essentially the two most politically polarized bills on the matter this session, and they're also the ones with the most promise of advancing. And they're both by well-known and heavily respected Senators. So I'm sure it doesn't hurt that West chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education - the committee that will hear each Top Ten bill.