The contrasting words and actions of two establishment moderates and two rising conservative stars surrounding Monday’s meeting of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) perfectly summed up our current legislative zeitgeist: Texans are experiencing an end to government by sleight of hand.
State Representative Drew Darby, a Straus-ally and one of three likely appointees to craft next session’s budget if Straus is re-elected, wrote an editorial about the meeting for Quorum Report, an establishment-friendly gossip blog which reports Texas Capitol news and rumors. In the column, Darby praised efforts by the LBB to cut funding for the National Guard as an effort to “extend and expand” the border surge.
We have already reported on how House Speaker Joe Straus forced the LBB to cut funds for the Guard, setting up an impending crisis in March that he and his Democratic allies will be empowered to exploit.
Outgoing Lt. Governor David Dewhurst joined in on the doublespeak, but on a different topic. As a parting shot at the conservative voters who rejected profligate spending under his watch, Dewhurst repeated discredited liberal attacks on conservative budget figures.
Conservative organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Empower Texans, as well as national publications like the Wall Street Journal, have widely reported that the most recent legislature increased spending, session-over-session, by 26%. To deflect criticism of this historic increase in spending, Dewhurst engaged in a kabuki theater dialogue with LBB director Ursula Parks over whether the biennial increase in appropriations was really that high.
Of course no informed person has ever purposefully alleged that biennium-to-biennium spending increased at such a rapid pace. By backfilling spending into the then-existing 2012–2013 biennial budget, the most recent legislature was able to spread its spending increase out so as to make appropriations appear relatively flat. In math terms, by increasing the denominator, Straus and Dewhurst made the increased numerator seem relatively smaller by comparison.
But like the young boy who was willing to tell the emperor he is wearing no clothes, a new class of principled conservative leaders are exposing the establishment’s blatant deception.
At the LBB hearing, conservative State Representative Matt Schaefer testified to the dangerous effects Straus’s policy will have at the border. Schaefer testified that, despite the National Guard just recently reaching its full potential, 800 of the 1000 National Guard troops deployed to the border will be removed by January under Straus’s plan, with the remainder departing the border region in March.
As a combat veteran, Schaefer explained to the Board that the logistics of troop deployments meant that by removing the Guard now, the Board was actually tying the hands of legislators in the coming session. Even if legislators appropriate emergency funds for border security, it will take months for the funds to translate into a redeployment of boots on the ground.
Likewise, Dewhurst’s successor, Lieutenant Governor-Elect Dan Patrick called out Straus on his ruse, saying in a press release that the LBB vote would, in fact, curtail the current National Guard deployment.
Principled conservatives are gaining ground in Austin, and these leaders are willing to break the magician’s code and tell the public how the establishment uses sleight of hand to govern. Only time will tell whether the politicians admit that the old way of doing business is dead and gone, or whether, like the lords of the bed chamber in the Hans Christian Anderson classic, they go on, taking “greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there is no train to hold.”