- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

AUSTIN, Texas — A special legislative session called to come up with new ways to fund Texas’ beleaguered school system failed this week, adjourning two days early.

Several funding plans were suggested — adding business taxes, legalizing video gambling, increasing cigarette taxes, initiating a payroll tax provision — but all ended in defeat.

Gov. Rick Perry, who called the special session without strategy sessions with leading legislators, took most of the heat.

Ken Armbrister, a Democratic senator from Victoria, said: “Only one person has the power to call a special session, and it was called without a consensus in either body.”

Several others said the governor should have been assured of at least minimal cooperation and agreement before calling the legislators to Austin.

Mr. Perry said he would call another session but declined to say when.

“It’s more important to get this issue right than to get it right away,” Mr. Perry told reporters.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the lawmakers did not have enough time to work out a plan that the House, Senate and governor would accept.

“We need some more time in order to do a good job,” he said. “The children of Texas deserve no less.”

Mr. Perry, Mr. Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, all Republicans, appeared at a friendly press conference Monday, but their relations haven’t always been cordial.

The governor riled Mr. Craddick and other House members two weeks ago by scuttling their plan to initiate a payroll tax provision. Mr. Perry had assured business leaders the provision would not be a part of the solution.

The House’s bill then became so entangled with special interests and divisiveness that it never made it to the floor.

Mr. Perry expressed doubts about Senate plans for expanded or new business taxes.

The school-funding system is at the breaking point, even with half of the state’s districts taxing property at the highest rate legal.

Yesterday, Mr. Craddick reminded lawmakers of a lawsuit filed by several school districts that claims the financing plan, which transfers money from richer to poorer districts, is illegal. He said the lawsuit might change the dynamics of the debate in the Legislature.

“Judicial fiats tend to focus the collective legislative mind,” Mr. Craddick said.

It is unlikely that the Legislature will reassemble for several weeks. Both Democrats and Republicans stage their state conventions in early June, and Mr. Craddick has a long-planned trip to South Africa beginning June 7.

“There were so many issues legislators tried to address that it became hard for them to tackle them all,” said Douglas Otto, superintendent of the Plano Independent School District. “They had so many balls in the air that I think they fell down from the weight of it all.”

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