Monday, May 23, 2005

Let There Be Light

SB 1863, the appropriations Christmas tree, was adorned with several amendments today, including one by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). His amendment re-designates the money in the system benefit fund (the pot comprising of 65 cents per kilowatt hour charge on every Texan's electric bill). Though the system benefit fund was created to give low-income Texans a discount on their electric bills, starting last session the money has instead been allocated towards general revenue, thereby acting as a tax. Turner's amendment, however, changes that by designating the money to where it was originally intended- to low-income Texans.
Turner's amendment, which was adopted after a point of order was withdrawn, will hold this money in a trust account beginning in the 2008-09 biennium. Why the delay? Turner understands the budget enough (he's on the House appropriations confernce committee) to know that the $200 million appropriated in this fund has already been allocated towards general revenue for the upcoming 2006-07 biennium; therefore, making it more feasible to begin the transition the next time (it also makes the House's other number crunchers a bit more likely to agree).
This amendment is very similar to Rep. Turner's HB 554, which simply keeps the original intentions for the system benefit fund in tact. HB 554 passed the House in March after Turner displayed his infamous ability for eloquent persuasion, describing his bill as "truth in financing...truth in appropriation...and truth in conservativism." During the floor debate, he also responded to comments about the state using general revenue money towards food stamps, a service already benefiting the same people who will benefit from the electric discounts. "We thank you for taking their light money and [allow them to] burn a candle as they eat with your food stamps," said Turner, "[Let them] eat in darkness."