Senator Carona's Email Update
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November 2, 2005

What's new . . .

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on the appeal of the court case that declared Texas' school finance system unconstitutional. However, the state has continued funding public schools, despite State District Judge John Dietz's ruling that the state must either fix the state's school finance system by October 1, or stop funding public schools. It is the Attorney General's opinion that the deadline was invalidated once the state appealed Judge Dietz's decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

In recent news articles in the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, former Comptroller John Sharp, who was appointed by Governor Perry to chair a panel that will study new state revenue sources, has given an idea of what the panel will examine, with the goal of "trading new state taxes for local property tax cuts." Sharp anticipates expanding business taxes to encompass all businesses, with the exception of sole proprietorships, and indicated the panel may look at allowing different businesses to pay different taxes, with a minimum requirement. He also expressed reservations about a payroll tax, saying "Anytime you tax labor, you get less of it." Governor Perry is expected to appoint the rest of the panel soon.

Pursuant to Governor Perry's executive order that public schools spend no less than 65% of funds on classroom instruction, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has begun to develop rules to implement the requirement with input from educators. Education Commissioner, Shirley Neeley, is holding meetings to determine what expenses will count towards classroom instruction and what sanctions should be taken against school districts that fail to meet the 65% requirement over a four-year phase in period. Educators are concerned that many essential services and costs, such as transportation, security, librarians and school nurses will not count towards the 65% requirement. Once the TEA has developed a rule, it will be available for public comment in the Texas Register.

In a letter to Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has requested that the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) meet to approve a $10 million appropriation to the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy, which is necessary for the school to open, and to consider other programs in need of emergency funding. You may recall that prior to the hurricanes, the Governor had requested that the LBB meet to consider funding of several items. Since the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House serve as co-chairs of the Board, they both have to agree to a meeting. Although a date has not been set, the Speaker has indicated he would also like the LBB to meet. For more information about the Legislative Budget Board, see this month's Focus.

Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, has issued interim charges for House committees. Interim studies provide a basis for much of the legislation in the following regular session. Some of the issues that will be looked at include: accessibility to higher education and whether certain areas of the state are underserved with respect to bachelor's and associate's degree programs; ways foster care provides or does not provide preparation for adult living to foster children; the compensation structure, including benefits, of state employees; and the structure and implementation strategies of successful performance-based pay systems for educational professionals in Texas and other states. Click here for a complete list of the House interim studies.

Senate interim committee assignments are expected to be announced during November.

Focus. . .

This month, I'd like to give you an overview of the history, responsibilities, and composition of the Legislative Budget Board, whose primary responsibility is assisting the Legislature in developing the state budget.

The LBB was founded in 1949, in response to a recommendation by the State Auditor's Office that the state have a legislative committee that would continually review state spending and rising state expenditures following World War II. Prior to 1949, state agencies were funded by individual appropriations bills. Following the creation of the LBB, each agency was required to submit their budget requests to the LBB for review and recommendation, which were incorporated into an omnibus appropriations bill.

Since the creation of the LBB, the Legislature has expanded its duties and responsibilities. In 1973, the Legislature directed it to establish a system of reviews and performance evaluations; the results of these reviews are published and made available to the Legislature before each regular session. Also in 1973, the Legislature directed the LBB to create fiscal notes to estimate the costs of any bill that would authorize or require spending state funds. Since then, the Legislature has required the LBB to do other types of impact statements, including fiscal notes on bills that would have statewide impact on units of local government, criminal justice policy impact statements, and equalized education funding impact statements.

In addition to the assistance the LBB provides to the Legislature in preparing the state's biennial budget, one of its most important functions is budget execution authority. This power was authorized in 1985 by constitutional amendment (Article 16, Section 69) and enacted in 1987 by the Legislature (Government Code, Chapter 317). Acting in concert, the LBB and the governor use budget execution authority in several ways: they may prohibit a state agency from spending all or any part of an appropriation made to the agency, transfer an appropriation from one agency to another, or change the purpose for which an appropriation was made. When exercising budget execution authority, the governor must approve any LBB proposal and the LBB must approve any proposal made by the governor. The LBB may only exercise this authority when the Legislature is not in session (regular or special). It is also important to note that the LBB may not appropriate new funds, but only shift appropriated funds.

The LBB is composed of the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor, who serve as joint-chairs. The Chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee are automatic members. Additionally, the Speaker of the House appoints two House members and the Lt. Governor appoints three Senators. Until 2003, the Lt. Governor was chair of the Legislative Budget Board. During the 2003 session, the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House each became joint-chairs of the LBB.

Did You Know. . . ?

The Texas Department of Insurance has released an excellent report on long-term care insurance. As stated in the report, "Long-term care refers to the type of personal care services you may need if you become unable to care for yourself because of a loss of functional capacity or cognitive impairment," and differs from traditional medical care because it, "helps a person maintain his or her ability to function, perform normal daily activities, or maintain a normal lifestyle." Click here to read the complete report.

The Comptroller recently released her annual Unclaimed Property List. This list was published in newspapers across the state on Sunday, October 16. The amount of unclaimed property on this year's list is nearly $80 million. Including property that remains unclaimed from previous years, the total amount of unclaimed property is $1.3 billion. To search the complete unclaimed property list click here.

Student Opportunities...

The Texas Commission on the Arts is now accepting applications for its Young Masters Scholarship Program. The program provides art students in grades 8-12 financial assistance to pursue advanced study in visual art, literature, music, theatre, and dance; however, the program is not a college scholarship. Those selected will receive the title Young Master and a scholarship in the amount of $2,500. You may apply at the Texas Commission on the Arts website or call 512-936-6564. Applications must be postmarked by December 15, 2005.

In Closing . . .

REMEMBER: Election day is November 8, and you will have the opportunity to vote on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Early voting started on October 24 and ends on November 4. Click here for early voting dates, times and locations in Dallas County. During early voting, registered voters can vote in person at any convenient polling place.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16