Everyone knew this was going to be a less conservative Texas House. After all, Republicans had lost seats. In this 81st Session, economically sound legislation has been killed in committee, while big-tax/big-government bills are flying. The cause? The House committee chairs, appointed by the Speaker, are overwhelmingly left-of-center; certainly out of touch with conservatives and even the general leanings of the House overall.
While still in draft form, our 2009 Fiscal Responsibility Index paints a picture of the fiscal leanings of the Legislature. It’s a sobering picture for taxpayers.
Remember, the Index is not complete; two weeks remain in the Session. As it stands, the average House rating is a 55.94% (as in school, 100% is the best score). House Republicans are averaging a 76.58, the Democrats a 35.02.
By way of comparison, last Session the House average score on the Index was a 53.4%. Republicans had a 75% average and Democrats a 31.7%.
One can argue the membership of the House is slightly more fiscally responsible (based on this draft) than two years ago. Where are the policy results?
Where the rubber-meets-the-road in legislative action is in the committees; that’s where bills live or die. The committee chairs are appointed by the Speaker of the House, Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Remember: House Republicans have a 76.6% average, and the House overall is a 55.9.
How do the Straus committee chairs’ score? A dismal average of 50.4%.
The Straus committee chairs are not even representative of the ideological direction of the House. Of the 35 committee chairs, 20 of them score 50% or lower on the draft Index!
Wondering why pro-taxpayer legislation has gone nowhere? It’s not because “the Republicans” killed it or were inept. It’s because the Republican House Speaker and his band of big-tax, big-government committee chairs exercised their ideological weight and smothered debate on true property tax relief and a host of other critical issues.
Mr. Straus ascended to the speakership in early January promising bi-partisan leadership reflecting the 76-74 Republican/Democratic House split. Technically he provided for it in terms of party-identification.
But we know party labels don’t tell the whole story; the proof is in the policy. Straus appointed as committee chairs those legislators decidedly bent against the rights of taxpayers. These are legislators overwhelmingly favoring bigger and more costly government. Thankfully the current economic environment has kept a lid on their ability expand government as much as many of them would have liked.
Back in 2007, House committee chairs appointed by the previous Republican speaker had an average score of 66.2%. (While good legislation died then, too, that had as much to do with fights for leadership as anything else.)
Obviously this 81st legislative session is not over. It is possible some scores will improve… and others worsen. But the trend, cruising into the last 20-odd days of the session, seems clear enough. While the Texas House has a Republican majority, it has clearly not been conservatives running the show.