On Wednesday, the Democrat coalition in the Texas House disregarded the state constitution in order to kill a conservative measure to protect the state’s savings account.
After voters approved constitutional amendment SJR 1 in 2014, lawmakers were charged with setting a sufficient balance or “floor” for the Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund) by the 30th day of each legislative session.
That duty, charged to lawmakers in the state constitution they swore to “preserve, protect, and defend,” and in accompanying state law, seemed forgotten by House leadership who had no plans to bring the measure up for a vote.
Gov. Greg Abbott and conservatives in the Senate have declared that raiding the ESF should be off the table this session. House Speaker Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) and his allies have argued that the fund should be raided and put forward a draft budget that exceeds available revenue.
Straus had no intent to have conservatives vote to protect the fund, and take away one of his bargaining chips for higher spending.
Despite inaction by House leadership, conservatives were prepared and put forward a resolution that would have allowed the body to follow the constitution and set a floor for the ESF.
Some conservatives planned to offer amendments to raise the floor from $7.5 billion, a number recommended by a select committee during the interim, to the current balance of $10.2 billion. Such a move would have effectively put the ESF off-limits for the rest of session.
Fearing that conservatives would be successful in winning that fight on the floor, Democrats lined up to vote against the measure. Thanks to House leadership’s refusal to appoint committees, the Democrats were guaranteed victory.
According to the rules of the Texas House, resolutions must typically be placed on the floor by the adoption of a resolutions calendar by the resolutions committee. Until committees are appointed, lawmakers must win the approval of two-thirds of members present in order to suspend the rules and begin debate on a resolution.
Currently the balance of power in the Texas House leaves Republicans just shy of a two-thirds majority when all Democrats are present on the floor. However, given that a number of Democrats were not present in the chamber on Wednesday, the Republicans could have potentially won a roll call vote on the floor if they had all shown up.
Instead, they worked to ensure they would lose.
Straus and his team waited over an hour until a full dozen House Republicans had left the chamber and had their absences excused. Then, what was left of the Republican caucus proceeded with the attempt to bring the resolution up for a vote, but the effort failed – just as planned.
The events of the day were a microcosm of how Straus and his leadership team intend to empower his Democrat coalition to defeat conservative reforms. By failing to do the job of appointing committees in a timely manner, Straus empowered the Democrats to kill the resolution to protect the ESF. Unless conservatives stand up to expose him, he will continue to slow boat priority legislation in order to create a time-crunch at the end of the session that can be exploited by the Democrats.
What results is convenient kabuki theatre: Straus claims he was simply outfoxed by those dastardly Democrats in the same way that a Scooby Doo villain is stopped by some “meddling kids,” meanwhile Democrats succeed in keeping spending sprees and future tax increases on the table.