Legislative Session Drawing to Close

By  | 

AUSTIN -- A stalemate on school funding legislation squashed any remaining hope Saturday that lawmakers can reach a deal this session.

With less than three days left, lawmakers needed an extraordinary series of events to successfully change the way Texans pay taxes to fund public schools.

The 140-day legislative session ends Monday. Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick said his team of negotiators have signed off on their versions of both the school and tax bills, sending them to the Senate for approval. But a senator who has been active in writing that chamber's plan said the House version won't do.

The school finance plan approved by the House does not raise enough money from businesses and hikes the sales tax too much to be approved by either Senate negotiators or the full chamber, said Sen. Kim Brimer, a Fort Worth Republican.

If an agreement were to be reached this weekend, senators would have to vote to suspend their rules to take up a tax bill. But, with the large sales tax increase the House plan includes, that isn't likely.

A $139 billion two-year budget compromise that would increase state spending by about 10 percent was headed to the Texas Senate on Saturday.

While House and Senate budget writers have called the spending plan a lean budget, conservative activists complain the proposal is fiscally irresponsible.

"I think there are a lot of smoke and mirrors and games being played," said Peggy Venable of Americans for Prosperity.

The total proposal represents a 19-percent increase over the $117 billion budget approved in 2003, counting state and federal money. The plan calls for spending about $65 billion in state funds, about 10 percent more than the $59 billion in state funds in the 2003-04 budget.

Approving the budget is the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to accomplish in their 140-day legislative session, which ends Monday.

Sen. Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican who led the Senate budget-writing efforts, called it a "conservative budget" that will cover basic services for Texans. Budget writers this legislative session had a little more wiggle room than in 2003, when lawmakers faced a $10 billion shortfall. This time, the Texas comptroller told lawmakers they had a $400 million surplus.

A bill headed to the governor's desk would require police officers to have probable cause or get a driver's consent to search a vehicle. Searches also could be conducted if the driver gives oral consent that is recorded.

Current law does not require police to tell citizens they can refuse a search if no probable cause exists, and proponents of the legislation say many people do not know they can deny a search.