Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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July 13, 2013

Decision to close state home depends on elected leaders

Corsicana — The fate of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, the former state home, ultimately rests with the Legislative Budget Board, a committee of top Texas elected officials that help control money in Austin.

The LBB is made up of David Dewhurst, the Lieutenant Governor; Joe Straus, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations committee; Harvey Hilderbran, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Tommy Williams, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Senators Robert Duncan, Juan Hinojosa, and Judith Zaffirini; and Representatives Dan Branch and Sylvester Turner.

In the House, money matters are divided into the Appropriations Committee, which deals with spending; and Ways and Means, which deals with taxes. On the Senate side, which is a much smaller body, money matters are all overseen by the Finance Committee.

There are 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives, but only 31 Texas Senators. They meet every other year (in odd-numbered years, 2013, for example) for 140 days. This year, two special sessions have been added by the governor, which could tack on an additional 60 days.

The Texas Constitution requires that the state’s budget be balanced and its growth limited to the state’s economy, which is tricky, since the budget is a two-year plan and it’s written in advance. To make that work, there are some checks and balances on the budget including a kind of preemptive strike power by the Texas Comptroller for a financial reality check, as well as a line-item veto held by the governor.

The LBB staff writes the rough draft of the budget every two years, then it starts the process of going through the House and Senate, just like any other bill.

The budget was passed and approved and signed by the governor in June, but lingering issues like this amendment, which calls for closing one TJJD facility and two state jails, can be handled by the LBB in the interim without a meeting through memos and letters.

The agency’s recommendation is to close the Corsicana facility, and according to a report issued in June, it will make that recommendation to the TJJD ruling board. Corsicana was chosen for closure because it needs a lot of upkeep, and doesn’t house a lot of inmates for its size and cost.

On Wednesday, Speaker Straus wrote a letter to the head of the TJJD expressing their “concerns” that TJJd made the closure recommendation before the public had a chance to express their opinions. The letter was also signed by Jim Pitts, who is on the LBB with Straus.

It put the cart before the horse, according to Texas Rep. Byron Cook, District 8, which includes Corsicana.

“The LBB has to approve (the closing),” Cook said. “They (TJJD) can recommend, but if the LBB takes no action then nothing happens. It really falls down to the lieutenant governor and the speaker.”

A public hearing on the possible closure will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Austin. A group from the Corsicana/Navarro County Chamber of Commerce is going to the hearing on a chartered bus to speak on behalf of the community about the effects of a closure.

The TJJD board will vote on it on July 26 at its next board meeting. A plan for closure has to be submitted to the LBB by Sept. 1.

John Barton, spokesman for the LBB, said there isn’t a set schedule for the next LBB board meeting.

“The staff will review the plan and pass the plan along to the LBB,” Barton said. “In order to take action the board doesn’t need to actually meet.”

—————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

 

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