Legislative Shake-Up May End Impasse

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Officials in Texas are hoping that a leadership shake-up in the House and Senate will make the political climate more favorable for passage of a school-finance plan that will end the legislature's protracted struggle with the issue.

The retirement of Gibson D. Lewis, the longtime Speaker of the House, and of Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, the veteran chairwoman of the House Public Education Committee, had already promised changes in the direction of that chamber.

Unexpected, however, was a move in the Senate that observers now hope will help end the partisan gridlock over the issue.

The Senate Education Committee this year will be chaired by Sen. Bill Ratliff, a Republican who led an effort to work out a school-finance compromise during last fall's special session. His appointment by Lieut. Gov. Bob Bullock came after Sen. Carl A. Parker, who was the leading force in legislative grappling with school finance in recent years, took over the Senate Economic Development Committee.

Officials in Mr. Bullock's office and on Senator Parker's staff said frustration with the inaction on the finance issue had led to the move.

Mr. Parker has "been there so long and had gone through all the avenues he possibly knew of,'' said Mary Jane Wardlow, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bullock. "Senator Parker welcomed the change.''

With Mr. Ratliff's appointment, legislative leaders hope Republicans who helped defeat a Senate-approved school-finance bill in November will support a measure with Mr. Ratliff as its principal backer.

"He was a natural choice,'' Ms. Wardlow said. "It turned into party politics last time and probably will again, so we're willing to do anything we can to get a compromise.''

The Senate is once again expected to take the lead in the school-finance debate, in part because the leadership picture in the House remains unclear.

The new Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, has said he would like lawmakers to pass a bill within the first 30 days of the legislative session--a necessity if the bill requires approval through a constitutional amendment. As yet, however, the House committee leadership remains undecided.

Observers said Rep. Libby Linebarger, a Democrat, is the leading contender to head the House education panel. She and Rep. Steve Ogden, a Republican, have been involved in early negotiations on a finance plan.

Mr. Ratliff opened this year's school-finance debate by noting that some type of recapture plan, under which local revenue would be taken from wealthy districts and redistributed to poorer systems, appeared to be inevitable. Reshuffling local funds is the only option left, he said, once school district consolidations and state tax increases have been dropped from consideration--as they have.

The legislature faces a court-imposed June 1 deadline for passing a new finance law.--L.H.

Vol. 12, Issue 18

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