The Texas Tribune hosted a panel Thursday with a focus on this week’s election results and its implications on the 2011 Legislative Session.
In what’s being described in increasingly dramatic terms as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a bloodbath and Red November, Republican candidates swept 22 incumbent Democrats out of office in the Texas House Tuesday night. They moved from a narrow majority of 77 Republicans to 73 Democrats last session to a 99 to 51 lead.
The implications for public education are massive, according to Thursday’s panelists.
Moderated by Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith, the panel was made up of Austin insiders: Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director and director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Health Care Policy studies; the honorable Pete Laney, former speaker of the House of Representatives; Corbin Casteel, partner at Casteel, Erwin & Associates and architect of some of the surprise Republican wins Tuesday night; and Jim Dow, executive director of Texas 20/20.
Wohlgemuth and Casteel, the conservative voices on the panel, both said that voters sent lawmakers a clear message this week.
“Stop spending money and stop telling us what to do,” is how Wohlgemuth summed up that message.
Democrat Pete Laney said it will be interesting to see how the super-majority in the Texas House deal with what could be as much a s a $25 billion deficit, especially in light of promises of no tax increases. Balancing the budget, the panelists agreed, could prove devastating.
“We’ll see if they’re as adamant about cutting as they were during the election cycle,” Laney said of candidates who’ve promised to rein in state spending.
“There’s no choice but to cut. Where it’s going to come from, that’s what they’re elected to decide,” Casteel said. “There was a theme in the races. It’s all fiscal conservatism, cut taxes, stop spending.”
Wohlgemuth said her organization would be making recommendations regarding eliminating certain state agencies. She said it’s not just about cutting for the sake of cutting, but shrinking government and eliminating inefficiency.
She also brought up charter schools several times, advocating for lifting the state cap on the number of charters. Taxpayer funded private school vouchers were also mentioned as a likely topic this session.
Wohlgemuth referenced TPPF studies that criticize school district spending. And, while she said TPPF would not support spending any more than half of the state’s rainy day fund to balance the budget, she cryptically criticized school districts for maintaining healthy fund balances.
“We have spent a lot more money on education in both facilities and staff…so I think there’s room there,” Wohlgemuth said.
Stay tuned to EduSlate for more inside scoop on what’s being discussed at the Capitol.