No, That Really is Rain You Feel on Your Back: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, March 17, 2017

The House raised the bet in the budget poker game as the House and Senate also displayed differences on sanctuary cities legislation, one of the Governor's emergency items. On the other hand, rejecting Governor Abbotts' lead on pre-k funding is an area of increasingly rare agreement between the House and the Senate. Still pending is how the Senate will respond to the statewide texting-while-driving ban passed this week by the House after a pretty lively debate. SB 6 passed the Senate this week, even as Chairman Cook confirmed the general sense that the House leadership, like the public, per UT/Texas Tribune Polling, is much less interested in the legislature regulating bathroom access than the Senate leadership. Looking toward 2018, Congressmen Will Hurd and Beto O'Rourke took a roadtrip and live streamed the whole thing, much to the delight of the national media and Jonathan Tilove – but probably not Texas' Junior Senator. See polling data and other notes on the week's events below. Remember, many of those graphics are interactive – just click the legend to toggle the bars on and off. And much more awaits you in the polling section.

1. Depends what you mean by looting.  Speaker Straus published an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News calling for combining "pending reductions with a modest withdrawal from the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund."  Within hours of the appearance of the Straus editorial, the other shoe dropped when newly-minted Appropriations Chair John Zerwas introduced a committee substitute for HB 2, the House supplemental appropriation bill, that called on pulling $2.5 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. This raised the bet from the original $1.4b draw on the fund called for in the original House budget rolled out a few weeks ago, per Sean Walsh's good piece on the hearing in the Austin American Statesman, which featured a long quote from Zerwas that was sharply on-message with the Speaker's op-ed. A Texas Tribune piece by Edgar Walters and Aditi Bhandari two weeks back attempted to lay out the disagreements between the Speaker, the Lt. Governor, and the Governor on using the RDF this session. The Governor continued to invoke a line from his state of the state address: "I’m confident we can balance the budget without looting the Rainy Day Fund." The Lt. Governor has expressed opposition to spending RDF money and the Senate budget doesn't include it, but his statement could be read as leaving a little air, too:  "...we should only consider using the Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenditures or natural disasters, as determined by the Legislature." One can argue a lot about the meaning of "looting," and can certainly debate a bit more technically about what constitutes a one-time expenditure. Expect them to do so. The Tribune story didn't inquire about what what the public – who will be widely affected by these decisions – thinks about the issue, but the UT/Texas Tribune (!) Poll did just last month and found that the public, including Republicans, appears not to be reflexively opposed to using the RDF – though Republicans will probably be looking for signals from their elected officials. Speaker Straus and his team are signaling, and Thursday's increase in their bid creates more room to negotiate. But expect more posturing before the actual deal making happens. In the meantime, expect the topic to come up when the Speaker sits down at UT Austin for a live streamed interview on Friday, March 24 at Noon. Limited seating space in the studio will be prioritized for students in the UT Government Department's internship class, but you can watch the stream at our website and submit questions during the event via Twitter. Follow @txpolproject for reminders (and other stuff). 

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Create new sources of revenue, such as new fees and/or taxes11%9%10%
Increase existing sources of revenue by raising fees and/or taxes14%3%10%
Make across-the-board cuts to all state government programs and agencies22%24%24%
Make targeted cuts to specifically chosen state government programs and agencies53%64%56%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Create new sources of revenue, such as new fees and/or taxes27%12%2%
Increase existing sources of revenue by raising fees and/or taxes23%9%1%
Make across-the-board cuts to all state government programs and agencies16%18%32%
Make targeted cuts to specifically chosen state government programs and agencies34%61%65%

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Don't know/No opinion24%29%24%

2. “It’s not perfect, it’s not complete and we will continue to work on it.” So-called sanctuary cities legislation, one of Governor Abbott’s emergency items, got a hearing in the State Affairs Committee in the Texas House this week. The tone was measured, at least compared to discussions in the Senate, with House sponsor Charlie Geren saying of SB 4, sponsored by State Senator Charles Perry and passed last month by the Senate, “It’s not perfect, it’s not complete and we will continue to work on it,” per Julian Aguilar’s detailed coverage in The Texas Tribune. Reflective of what seems like a new microtrend among reporters, Twitter and some of the coverage (including the Tribune story) mentioned that the witness list was lopsidedly against the bill. There are lots of possible reasons for this – different levels of intensity on each side of the issue and the fact that the hearing was held in Austin come to mind immediately – but the pattern in public attitudes in the February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll leaned heavily in the other direction. When given descriptions of arguments for and against local authorities declining to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, most Texas voters disapprove of practices associated with sanctuary cities  – particularly Republican voters.

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Strongly support22%
Somewhat support15%
Somewhat oppose9%
Strongly oppose41%
Don't know13%

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Strongly support41%12%6%
Somewhat support24%18%7%
Somewhat oppose9%13%8%
Strongly oppose10%35%72%
Don't know16%22%7%

3. The House and the Senate seem to have taken Gov. Abbott’s advice on pre-k funding in both of their budgets this week – that is, unwilling to fund his program at the levels he is asking for ($236 million), they’re, in various degrees, deciding whether to fund his approach at all. The Senate Finance committee cut the $180 million allotted from last session in their original budget, opting instead to allocate $40 million for “a separate partnership with nonprofits to support districts and charters implementing pre-K programs,” per Aliyya Swaby’s coverage in the Tribune. Setting aside the large body of research largely confirming that pre-k done right (i.e. all-day and with good teacher-student ratios, among other things) produces good outcomes, we’ve previously wondered why Governor Abbott remains so dug in on pre-k funding. It’s certainly not a strong preference among his GOP voting base, and, in fact, is a real sore spot for a small share of them who think publicly funded pre-school is a means of cultivating secular socialists. Once more, with a little less hyperbole: 34 percent of Tea Party identifiers think pre-k is “not at all effective” in improving public education. But thus far, we remain fascinated by Gov. Abbott's forceful insistence on funding pre-k all the way.

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Extremely effective45%23%15%
Somewhat effective34%31%31%
Not very effective6%14%24%
Not at all effective5%15%17%
Don't know10%17%14%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Extremely effective49%17%8%
Somewhat effective34%39%14%
Not very effective7%20%29%
Not at all effective3%10%34%
Don't know7%13%14%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Creating a school voucher program2%11%40%
Expanding the number of charter schools2%11%13%
Increasing the pay of public school teachers18%13%3%
Increasing funding for the public school system30%20%1%
Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession11%6%3%
Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take17%21%23%
Increasing opportunities for online learning5%4%2%
Grading individual schools on an A-F scale3%10%12%
Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs11%5%2%

4. Former Speaker Tom Craddick finally passed his long sought-after statewide ban on texting while driving in an interesting day of debates and amendments in the Texas House. Democratic representatives were alert to how the creation of what promises to be a common offense might enter into citizens interaction with law enforcement. The most forceful rejection of the law came from once-upon-a-time Craddick-D Harold Dutton, who found the bill creating a largely unenforceable law (in his view) as written. Others, from a more conservative perspective, raised the specter of the nanny state and over-criminalization. Rick Perry invoked the former when he vetoed the bill in 2011. But amidst lots of local limits and these cross currents, the theme that seems to be shaping up here in the Republican dominated legislature circa 2017: state government is gonna govern. 

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Very favorable6%9%29%
Somewhat favorable16%21%46%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable26%26%16%
Somewhat unfavorable19%14%5%
Very unfavorable30%24%2%
Don't know/no opinion2%7%2%

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Very favorable14%4%16%
Somewhat favorable31%30%36%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable30%21%21%
Somewhat unfavorable15%17%15%
Very unfavorable8%24%7%
Don't know/no opinion3%4%5%

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Very favorable15%19%53%
Somewhat favorable33%30%29%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable22%18%7%
Somewhat unfavorable14%12%4%
Very unfavorable13%16%4%
Don't know/no opinion3%3%2%

5. We bet Ted Cruz isn’t all that happy with Will Hurd for helping Beto O’Rourke look like a reasonable and cool guy – not to mention helping put the little-known congressman from El Paso all over national and statewide media this week. O’Rourke is all but assured of announcing that he’ll be running against Cruz (if he makes it out of the primary, O’Rourke that is). Not that Cruz is in trouble per se, having largely recovered from his failed presidential bid and the unpleasantness that followed. But still. Relive the road trip though the Tilovian Kaleidescope that IS First Reading.

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Approve strongly20%
Approve somewhat18%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%
Disapprove somewhat10%
Disapprove strongly29%
Don't know9%

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Approve strongly4%10%37%
Approve somewhat7%10%30%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%16%15%
Disapprove somewhat11%12%9%
Disapprove strongly56%41%4%
Don't know10%11%5%

Here's a quick example of that national coverage.

6. From the Department of Sounding Like a Broken Record: Lt. Governor Patrick invoked broad public support in his efforts to regulate bathroom access in a radio interview, earning yet another instance of de-contextualized coverage from in the Texas press. Patrick Svitek wrote about it in the Texas Tribune. We suggest a couple of edits to whoever edited this press release reporting: 

"I think the speaker is out of touch with the voters," Patrick said in an interview on Dallas radio station KLIF, bringing up polling that he said shows wide support for the legislation. "This is an issue that people, supporters, constituents, voters want."


"If the speaker doesn't bring it to a vote, that's his issue," Patrick added. Patrick said it's his job as lieutenant governor to "uphold Texas conservative values, and that's what we did in the Senate" by passing the bill.


INSERT “A”:  Lt. Governor Patrick was apparently referring to polling distributed at his campaign website,, that found high levels of support for “passing a state law that would make it illegal for men to enter in a public women's restroom, locker room or shower in order to assure women have privacy and can feel safe.” In a series of non-partisan public opinion surveys, The University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll has found just over 50 percent of Texans saying that “birth gender” rather than “gender identity” should govern bathroom access. Earlier in the legislative session, the poll found that 24 percent of Texans though it was very important for the legislature to pass a bill regulating transgender people’s access to public restrooms, while 38 percent said it was not at all important.  

INSERT “B”: Among self-identified conservatives responding to the UT/Texas Tribune Poll question, 30 percent said it was very important and 36 percent said it was not at all important to pass such a bill.

State Rep. Byron Cook has reportedly echoed this sentiment in stories that broke late Thursday. Among other things, Lauren McGaughey's Dallas Morning News story reports Cook opining, "There's no evidence of a problem."

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Very important24%
Somewhat important15%
Not very important13%
Not at all important38%
Don't know/No opinion11%