The legislative session of bad ideas and worse outcomes

Today is the final day of the legislative session of 2015 in Texas. With any luck, we won’t see this clown car back for a very long time. For you legislative newbies, the last day of session is called “sine die.”

“Sine” is latin, and means “oh my God, if they stay any longer, I’m just gonna.”

“Die” means die.

On one hand, expectations were low, but were quickly exceeded by legislators hell-bent on unexpected lowness.

Up at thirty thousand feet, it’s not surprising – too many people were new to their jobs for anybody to get a passing grade on their first try. With the exception of House Speaker Joe Straus, much of the leadership had never done this before.

It showed.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is sure to spend the rest of the week crowing about him being the most successful Lt. Governor of all time. But the first thing he did was change the Senate rules to mow over the Democrats, and suddenly “the greatest deliberative body in the world” wasn’t even the greatest deliberative body in the building.

If you rewind back to Patrick’s inauguration speech in January, his biggest emphasis was in passing public school vouchers. Then the voucher bills promptly died.

Granted, Patrick also emphasized cutting taxes, and cut taxes they did. Businesses will get a break, but heading for a campaign mailer near you will be bragging that they cut homeowners’ property taxes. That big “cut you will notice” turned out to average about 35 cents per day for homeowners. Don’t spent it all in one place (sorry, renters – you’re out).

Yes, they had modest tax cuts, and yes, they passed a conservative budget, and they’ll all brag about all that in the campaign mailers. What they won’t mention is that they did little to move the ball forward on infrastructure or massive expensive debt, all while hoarding more than 18 billion dollars of your money which still isn’t working for you.

They’ll brag about their investment in border security, while forgetting to mention that the border region isn’t even statistically dangerous, or that the efforts of the Feds, not the DPS or other state authorities, are responsible for most interdictions. But they certainly threw 800 million bucks of your money at the problem. Because campaign mailers!

And ethics reform? What they passed is ethics DEform. Legislators acted like it’s just completely unreasonable to pass a bill that would actually let Texans know where the money comes from or where it went. And just for good measure, they passed special legislation that will make it much harder to prosecute…only legislators.

Despite court rulings against public school finance, and massive cuts to education in past sessions, many school districts remain behind the 8-ball from those past cuts, and if anything they institutionalized everything that is wrong with the current finance system, despite House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s laudable efforts to have a real debate on improvement. But be sure to look forward to those campaign mailers about how education is their highest priority!

And never fear, patriots! Endless hours of debate was lovingly devoted to all the darling issues of importance to the Tea Party clown car. Guns everywhere! More heavily-regulated uteruses! We hate icky gay people more than you!

And speaking of gay people, they continued to strenuously oppose marriage equality, using as their excuse the fact that Texans voted for it years ago – even as they overturned the results of the election held in Denton last fall that overwhelmingly prohibited fracking there.

So yes, lip service was certainly paid to the enforcers of Republican primary politics, but the leadership didn’t even do that very well – even the Tea Party is grumbling that everybody’s a disappointment, while legislators didn’t even attempt to pay lip service to the other 96 percent of Texans.

It wasn’t all bleak. They did find some money for roads, but not enough to keep up. They did pass a pre-K bill – one which doesn’t expand the program to more kids, and one which almost but not quite gets us back to previous pre-K funding.

These two achievements will be lauded only because they’re two of the only things the legislature accomplished that didn’t actively go in the wrong direction. Let that sink in.

Style points must be given to Governor Greg Abbott. He managed to stay above the fray every time there was some hot Republican-on-Republican action, while gently guiding legislators toward his point of view behind the scenes. Progressives may not agree with Abbott on much, but after the blustery swaggering days of Rick Perry, and the antagonistic “my way or the highway” approach of Dan Patrick, Abbott’s less flashy, calm leadership style was at least a few molecules of fresh air.

All told, there will be a lot for conservative Republicans to campaign on. But while they’re busy bragging to Republican primary voters about all they accomplished, to the rest of Texas, this legislative session will sadly be remembered for absolutely nothing at all.

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