Preparing for the start of the legislative session, we last week sent lawmakers a letter outlining our priorities and reminding them how our scorecard, the Fiscal Responsibility Index, works. Of more immediate significance, we noted that House members’ first vote could be graded.
As we have done in the past, scores on the Fiscal Responsibility Index will be based on votes related to identified issues. We then calculate individual members’ scores only on the votes actually taken, including any clarifying statements they make in the Journal (such as when the electronic voting system mis-registers their vote). Sponsoring and co-sponsoring targeted legislation is likewise included in the scoring.
We only include on the Index those votes that we notify House and Senate offices of in advance. Given the complexity of the legislative process, and the sheer number of votes they take in a relatively short amount of time, we believe it is important that they know in advance what measuring stick we will use to judge them at the end of the Session.
Broadly speaking, here are our issue priorities going into the Session:
For House members, we noted in a Dec. 20th hard-copy letter (mailed to their Capitol offices) that their first major vote of the 82nd Session could well be the first vote on the Index. That is, their vote for the House Speaker.
Why? Consider just how much priority legislation died last session not on the House floor, but because of the committee chairmen selected by the incumbent House Speaker, Joe Straus. The House speaker alone decides who chairs which committees, and they have broad power to kill legislation.
For example, Speaker Straus said he opposed placing caps on property taxes. Lo and behold, the chairman he appointed to preside over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee dutifully killed all taxpayer protection legislation.
Losing a floor vote is never fun, but what bugs taxpayers even more is not being allowed to have the vote in the first place. We saw incumbent speaker Joe Straus’ committee chairs last session kill priority legislation through calendar delays and inaction, and downright maliciousness. So, yes, the speakership matters, and matters a lot.