Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#TXLEGE: House attempts spending spree (that will probably be unsuccessful)....

"Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction,
But he who regards a rebuke will be honored."
Proverbs 13:18

An optimist can argue that this was the first time during the special session that there was any organized floor pushback on anything and that the author of the second bill gutted his own bill via amendment.  A pessimist can argue that both bills passed overwhelmingly.  A realist can argue that the Senate approach is the only one that's going to get to the governor's desk and thus everything the house did today was pointless.

Today, the house voted out two bills related to teacher retirement; we'll address the bills in order.

  • HB 20 (Ashby): This bill would raid the rainy day fund to make an allegedly "one time" payment to the teacher retirement system.

    During his layout of the bill, Trent Ashby repeatedly tried to assure the members that there would never be another raid of the rainy day fund to prop up this program ever again; if you believe Ashby, we have mineral rights in South Texas that we would love to sell you.

    That being said, this was the first time there was actual pushback from members on any bill during the special session.  Bill Zedler had a good exchange with Ashby pointing out that the fund is financially unsustainable.  Matt Krause discussed the inappropriateness of using the rainy day fund for this purpose.

    Mike Schofield attempted to offer an amendment to draw from general revenue instead of the rainy day fund.  Straus went full dictator and ruled the amendment non-germane.  Schofield ultimately caved, but gave a long speech about how "he was only voting for the bill to get it to a conference committee."

    Speaking against the bill, Jonathan Stickland explained: "I think voting against this bill is voting against political maneuvering."

    Ultimately, the Freedom caucus (minus Jeff Leach) and Jim Murphy were the only one who voted no.

  • HB 80 (Darby): You know it's a bad sign when the bill author begins his layout by stating "the fund is not currently actuarially sound"...but that's how floor debate over this bill began.

    This bill was originally intended to give a cost of living increase to retired teachers.  Due to questions raised by members prior to the bill reaching the floor, Drew Darby offered an amendment to give "pre-permission" to do a cost of living adjustment "if the fund ever gets actuarially sound."  Essentially, the bill does nothing unless the fund sees freakishly good investment returns.

    Yvonne Davis called Darby's bill "disingenuous" and voted no.

That being said, we got an idea this afternoon for how we could find a fairly substantial chunk of change; it wouldn't fix all problems with the fund, but it would buy some time.

The teacher retirement fund has a gigantic office complex, on prime real estate, two blocks from the Capitol.  If the state were to sell the property for mixed use development, we suspect they could net at least $1 billion.  Whatever personnel are actually needed to manage the fund could be relocated to less expensive land somewhere in East Austin.

Bonus points that this plan would help add supply to address Austin's structural housing shortage:

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