Texas Dems Vote for Jobs Bill That May Cost State
Texas Democrats in Congress rejected state Republicans' pleas — and the threat of a lawsuit — on Tuesday and helped pass a jobs bill that critics say will cost Texas schools more than $800 million.
President Barack Obama then signed the $26 billion jobs bill intended to protect 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from layoffs.
A state-specific provision requires Gov. Rick Perry to promise Washington that Texas will maintain certain state education spending levels through 2013. Perry has said the requirement is unconstitutional because the Texas Constitution prohibits him from committing future state spending.
He issued a statement Tuesday, saying he would continue to work with state leaders "to fight this injustice."
"It is unfortunate that Washington continues to play partisan games with Texans' tax dollars and the very future of our children," Perry said. "Texas will not surrender to Washington's one-size-fits-all, deficit-spending mindset or let Washington do to the Texas budget what they have done to the federal budget."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a statement saying he has "asked the attorney general's office to explore all legal options to ensure Texas is treated fairly." Dewhurst, a Republican, said last week he would file a lawsuit against the federal government if the language was not removed.
A spokesman for Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott called the legislation "constitutionally flawed."
"The attorney general's office is continuing to coordinate with the leadership as we weigh the state's options," said Abbott's spokesman, Jerry Strickland. "But Texas taxpayers can rest assured that we are prepared to take whatever legal action is necessary to ensure that our schools do not suffer financially from the Doggett amendment's discriminatory — and constitutionally questionable — provisions."
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the Austin Democrat who crafted the amendment, called the protests "phony legalistic arguments."
He and other Democrats say the provision isn't unconstitutional and Perry should simply agree to the terms so schools can get an estimated $800 million intended to spare them from layoffs.
The Texas constitution says no "appropriation of money be made for a longer term than two years."
Doggett's amendment has been endorsed by Texas Association of School Boards and other statewide educator groups.
Democrats in Congress said they put forth the provision, which also would bypass state lawmakers and send the federal aid directly to school districts, because of the way the state handled federal stimulus dollars last year.
Texas lawmakers used $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money to replace state money and ended the legislative session with billions in the state's Rainy Day Fund, Doggett said.
"You can be sure that Texas is singled out by this legislation — it was singled out by the governor who grabbed $3.2 billion of federal aid to education to bailout a mismanaged state government," he said. "We didn't send that federal aid for education to Texas to plug a mismanaged state budget. We sent it to help our schoolchildren."
He said the provision in the jobs bill was intended to ensure state officials didn't divert education dollars to other parts of the budget if they received more federal aid.
"Today, in order to avoid history from repeating itself, we demand accountability, we demand support for quality public education and local control of education and not more mismanagement and interference from the state of Texas."
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, called the bill "political chicanery."
"I'm proud that the elected officials in the Texas statehouse had the good sense to keep those funds in reserve," Olson said from the House floor shortly before the vote. "If a member of this body has a problem with the way the rightfully elected representatives of the people of Texas choose to use their money, then I have some advice for him or her: Go to Austin."
The Texas delegation voted along party lines. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, was absent and did not vote, but spokeswoman Beth Breeding said he would not have supported the bill. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, also did not vote.
The $800 million would help save nearly 13,400 jobs in Texas education, according to estimates from the National Education Association.
The vote comes as many school districts are finalizing scaled-back budgets for the upcoming year and dipping into reserves to supplement stagnant state funding.