Ghostfooting

critical reading for the rude

texas colleges losing health insurance?

If you work for a community college in Texas (or if your tax dollars go to support a college), look sharp. Here’s a TCCTA Legislative Update for 20th June 07. Governor Goodhair wants to take away health insurance benefits for college employees.

He’s just got his own agenda, you know.

A MESSAGE FROM THE TCCTA STATE PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Dear Colleague,

Since our last Update, on Monday, we have been in close contact with college presidents, other organizations, TCCTA members, and the media regarding the Governor’s shocking decision to veto an appropriation by the Legislature of $154 million for community college health insurance costs. Included in this message is information about this issue, answers to questions we have been receiving in our office, as well as actions we strongly urge members to take in response.

WHAT HAPPENED

On the evening of Friday, June 15, the Governor announced his veto of a portion of the appropriations bill that provided funding for community college group health insurance benefits. This appropriation was based on a budget request from our colleges, in keeping with similar budget requests over many previous legislative sessions. There were no substantive changes in this year’s request compared to requests in previous years. The only difference this time was the Governor’s decision to invoke the arguments of “proportionality” — an obscure doctrine rejected in two consecutive sessions of the Texas Legislature — to veto funding.

It is clear through press reports that the Governor is alone in his views on this issue.

The Governor’s decision came as a surprise to community colleges, interested organizations such as TCCTA, and members of the Legislature. Rey Garcia, President of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said in an interview, “We were blindsided.” The Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, Wright Lassiter, said in a statement, “To assert that this action came as a total surprise is an understatement.”

Carl Isett, a member of the House Appropriations Committee expressed his concern: “I am disappointed because I thought we passed a very fiscally responsible budget.” TCCTA is unaware of any individual or group that was notified in advance of the Governor’s intentions.

In his veto proclamation, the Governor accuses community colleges of falsifying their budget requests for group health insurance, a charge college officials strongly deny.

Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), chair of the House Committee on Appropriations said of the accusation, “That’s pretty strong stuff,” adding, “I question what his opposition is to community colleges. They’re over half of the higher education enrollment and not even a third of the higher education budget.”

Bill Holda, President of Kilgore College stated, “We have documented repeatedly to various House and Senate committees that we are in compliance and do not receive excessive or inappropriate funds for health insurance. Both the House and Senate have concurred that we are in compliance.”

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

The Governor’s decision to wait until after the end of the session to execute this veto severely limits the remedies for the problems this creates. However, constructive possibilities still exist, and there are still important actions you can take.

(1) Some have suggested the Governor exceeded his veto authority by striking certain provisions of Article III, while leaving others intact. At this point, we don’t know if that is the case, but it is a question worth pursuing, and TCCTA plans to work with its attorneys and other organizations on it.

(2) Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) has suggested the Legislative Budget Board may have the authority to restore these funds and, as a member of that Board, is encouraging the LBB to work on a solution.

(3) The funding cuts outlined in the veto are to go into effect Sept. 1, 2009, the second year of the coming biennium. Thus, the Legislature could allocate a “supplemental appropriation” early in the next legislative session, prior to that date. While this would ultimately avert the cuts, it would be difficult for colleges to plan their budget, not knowing whether the funds would be restored until very late.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

While the “possible solutions” are far from certain, we believe that members of the Legislature are keenly interested in fixing the problem the Governor has created. Your early involvement will be essential to the success of whatever solution is ultimately found.

(1) As we suggested in Monday’s Legislative Update, members are urged to contact their senators and representatives, thanking them for their original appropriation supporting community colleges, and apprising them of the likely impact these cuts will have on our students, taxpayers, and employees. Lawmakers should also be urged to contact the governor’s office to voice their strong displeasure with the veto. (To find out “Who Represents Me,” click here: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/.)

(2) Contact the Governor’s Office directly, to express your concerns about the veto. It is important the Governor be aware of the impact his veto will have on our colleges and our students. Members may reach the Governor’s Office by e-mail, at http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact, or by phone at (800) 252-9600.

(3) Contact member of the Legislative Budget Board. This body is charged with making budget recommendations to the Governor and Leglsiature, and is composed of the Lt. Goveror, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chairs of the House Committees on Appropriations and Ways and Means, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, two House members, and three Senate members. The LBB may play a pivotal role in this issue. Contact information is available here: http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/The_LBB/Agency/Members.htm.

(PLEASE NOTE: Employees of community colleges should not use college equipment, postage, or e-mail addresses when communicating with legislators.)

TCCTA will continue to keep members updated as this issue develops.

Sincerely,

Terry Stewart Mouchayleh
State President, TCCTA
Austin Community College

Richard Moore
Executive Director
TCCTA

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June 20, 2007 - Posted by | geo/pol

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