You know that moment on some TV game shows when they throw open the curtain to show someone what they’ve won?
That’s where we are in the 2018 political cycle.
For newly elected and re-elected Texans alike, it’s quite a package. Only trouble-seekers — a fair description of some people in politics — would call these prizes.
Start with the new and returning members of the Texas Legislature, which begins its next 140-day session on Jan. 8. The school finance fixes so many state leaders are promising will involve either cuts to spending — in education or something else — or “increases in revenue.” That one’s in quotations because it’s code for nasty little things like taxes and fees and fines — the things that bring in new money.
To lower school property taxes, the state has to lower what’s spent on education or increase state spending to offset drops in local spending. The math is easy. The politics are hard.
To the winners go the spoils — and the spoiled.
What’s in the prize pile depends on what office the prizewinner has obtained. The 38 members of the state’s congressional delegation will either start or resume their work, or the lack of it, on immigration policy.
That will include a look at the future of the tent city set up in Tornillo, outside of El Paso, to house immigrant children who were taken into custody on the U.S.-Mexico border. According to The Texas Tribune’s Julian Aguilar, that facility is operating on an extension of a one-month temporary contract originally inked in June.
Immigration policy was also the subject of a report turned out by the bipartisan advocacy and policy organization FWD.us and Cornell University detailing the destructive emotional and financial fallout from the incarceration of immigrant families. One conclusion, in short: Our attempts to solve one problem are creating new ones.
On the home front, a sickening exposé in the Austin American-Statesman revealed 90 Texas children died in day care over the last decade, and another 450 were sexually abused. The governor and others told the newspaper that the state will act in 2019 to increase protections for infants and toddlers in the future.
The state will be busy with other high-profile issues, like the criminal asset forfeiture laws that allowed law enforcement to seize more than $50 million in cars and cash and other property last year alone. Those figures come from the Texas Attorney General’s office, an agency more likely than not to take a police-friendly view of things. A story last week by the Tribune’s Edgar Walters and Julie McCullough outlined the practice, which does not require any proof of guilt to justify taking property that police believe was used in a crime. Their first sentence sounds like something out of a satire: “In February 2016, prosecutors in Houston filed a lawsuit against a truck: State of Texas vs. One 2003 Chevrolet Silverado.”
Some of the “prizes” for new officeholders are pure politics, like deciding whether to keep an erroneous memorial Confederate plaque hanging on a wall in the state Capitol, or to melt it down to make some more of that building’s unique ornamental doorknobs. The decision might fall to others, but the Legislature has the power to step in if it wants.
Some are regulatory — like the one spotted last week by the Trib’s Jay Root. The state’s biggest liquor store chain wants to sue regulators for “wrongfully and maliciously” trying to penalize the retailer, he reported. The state says that kind of suit is itself illegal. That’s in the courts, but watch how the Legislature deals with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Many of the folks who won the elections last month got there by telling voters they wanted to go to Austin or Washington to solve problems, to get away from the political bickering and get down to work.
We shall see. There’s an awful lot of work to do.
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