State Journal: First in line; Turnover

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Angered by his Texas colleagues' raids on state school aid to build more prisons, State Sen. Carl Parker will introduce a state constitutional amendment next session that would put education in line ahead of all other programs.

The proposal by Mr. Parker, a former chairman of the Senate education committee, calls for the state comptroller to certify the state's school-spending legislation each biennium before the legislature can enact funding for other state services.

The idea of the amendment and its catchy name--"Education First"--has already attracted supporters.

In a letter to Mr. Parker, Gov. Ann Richards writes, "I support your efforts to place education funding as the number-one priority of the Texas legislature."

"I think this is motherhood and apple pie. I can't imagine anyone would be opposed," another lawmaker told reporters.

But Mr. Parker's bill may draw foes like flies if its final form resembles the "Kids First" constitutional amendment that appears on the Oregon ballot this year. That measure would guarantee a certain minimum level of funding to schools and is opposed by business groups, both gubernatorial candidates, and social-service groups who fear it will result in across-the-board cuts in other programs.

Control of a large number of state legislative chambers will change hands with this year's election, the National Conference of State Legislatures predicts.

If a majority party holds power by a margin of four seats or less, the N.C.S.L. considers that chamber a likely candidate for a takeover. That is the alignment in 17 legislative bodies heading into the Nov. 8 election.

In Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, and Oregon, both chambers could be up for grabs.

Nationwide, Democrats control both chambers in 24 states, while Republicans are the majority in eight states. The parties split power in 17 states. Nebraska's legislature is nonpartisan.

Currently, there are 4,300 Democratic state legislators, 3,025 Republican lawmakers, and 25 who register as Independents or another party.

Nancy Rhyme, the director of the N.C.S.L.'s Leaders' Center, said that no majority party's lock on power is secure if the expected throw-the-bums-out anger of voters plays out.

"Given the mood of the voters, you can't discount the fact that there could be large swings of seats in many chambers," she said.

--Drew Lindsay

Vol. 14, Issue 09

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