Lone Star Showdown: Texas Singled Out By Congress

Lone Star Showdown: Texas Singled Out By Congress Image

Texas Governor Rick Perry has apparently struck a hard nerve with a member of Congress.  I am not talking about immigration or the EPA regulation, which also has the Obama Administration butting heads with the Lone Star State.  Instead, I am referring to Texas being singled out in the $26 billion state and education aid package.   Hidden in the aid package that recently passed Congress and was signed into law by Obama is an amendment that requires Texas, and only Texas, to commit to maintaining or increasing the inflated level of education spending over the next three years if it accepts the federal money.

This quarrel started last year.  In 2009, Governor Perry accepted $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money for its education fund.  However, Perry did not use the money to supplement the state’s education fund as the federal government had intended it.  Instead he cut the state’s education funding and used the stimulus money to fill the gap.  That allowed Texas to boost its rainy day fund, bringing it to a little over $9 billion.

Perry’s actions infuriated Democrats who wanted states to increase their spending, not cut back and save.  Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat Congressman from Austin was one of the biggest critics of Perry’s actions.  In order to ensure the same thing does not happen with the $26 billion package, $830 million of which was pledged to Texas, Doggett drafted an amendment that requires only Texas to certify that it will not reduce the state’s education spending at any time within the next three years in order to receive the funds.  Unfortunately, this mandate attempt by Doggett to punish Texas for fiscal responsibility is unconstitutional.  Article 8, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution states:

No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in pursuance of specific appropriations made by law; nor shall any appropriation of money be made for a longer term than two years.

Therefore, the governor cannot bind the next legislative session to an assurance as the Doggett Amendment requires.  Perry blasted Doggett for the amendment, which could prevent Texas from receiving its share of the education funds:

This amendment mandates that the governor guarantee the Legislature will provide a certain level of state funding through 2013, a funding scheme prohibited by the Texas Constitution. It will be at least June 1, 2011, before the Legislature passes and the Comptroller certifies the 2012-2013 budget. That means Texas – the only state singled out with this mandate – might not be able to use any of these funds provided to states.

Texas State Republican Senator Dan Patrick added to the exchange in an address on his Facebook page:

The Governor of Texas does not write the budget and cannot guarantee expenditures now, or in the future. The legislature also cannot guarantee spending beyond the 2 year budget cycle we pass each session. You can plan to spend money beyond two years, but you cannot guarantee it…It is not possible, practical, or allowed by the Constitution, to guarantee monies beyond the budget cycle, Texas House and Senate Democrats understand this, but apparently Texas Democrat Congressmen do not.

It remains clear that Congressmen in Washington do not know their federal or state Constitutional limits.  The $26 billion package was a bad idea to begin with, but Doggett took it to the next level by requiring an unconstitutional act by Governor Perry to receive Texas’s share of the funds.  Perry stood up to Doggett’s actions, bolding stating:

It is unfortunate that Washington continues to play partisan games with Texans’ tax dollars and the very future of our children … 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.

We’ll continue to work with state leaders, including the attorney general, to fight this injustice.

Perry is carrying the state’s slogan “Don’t mess with Texas” very well in this battle.  He has the backing of Texas’s Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbot, and other top Texas officials, but it remains to be see how this will play out.  My San Antonio suggests that Congress could appeal the Doggett Amendment, which Doggett strongly opposes.  The Department of Education could also interpret the bill’s language that takes the Texas Constitution into account.  Regardless, with elections a little more than two months away you can bet this will remain in the political spotlight in Texas.