As we went from deal to no deal on Thursday and Friday, finally a budget deal emerged. In a session that many thought the budget would be a much easier then usual, because the state had a surplus, it didn’t end that way. Texas has many needs that have been neglected over the years, and even with a surplus, there wasn’t enough to make up for that neglect and put back funding that was cut last session. And there was little will, in the majority, to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to make up for that.
Today was a huge win for the Democratic members of our Texas Legislature: they held firm in budget negotiations and restored $3.9 billion in funding to public education.In 2011, the Republican supermajority slashed $5.4 billion from our public schools, resulting in teachers losing their jobs and school children being unable to gain a competitive education. Restoring those funds has been a priority for Democrats this session. Today, Democrats held firm and struck a deal that restores $3.9 billion, which is the best that 55 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate can realistically do.
Pragmatically, this is the best we can do with Republicans in charge of our state who still seek to shortchange our children, and represents practically the highest dollar amount discussed to be restored to public education this session.
Of course $3.9 billion is better then $2.4 billion in education. And the Democrats deserve much credit for sticking to that. But the truly sad part is that a state with so much money right now, is hoarding so much of it while there are still so many in need. Millions without health care, so many hungry and suffering. It’s likely that we’ll start next session with a surplus too, another low estimate for this biennium from the Comptroller.
No matter how much money Texas has next session, we’re likely to be further behind two years from now. Because our state elected leaders continue to neglect funding what can truly make a state better off for all. Education, infrastructure, health and the welfare of those in need. Instead they will focus on tax cuts and keeping taxes low for those who have so much.
With time running out, legislative negotiators on Friday forged a two-year spending plan that includes an additional $3.9 billion for education, offsetting deep cuts imposed in public school funding two years ago.
The spending package, spread over three pieces of legislation, also calls for a total 3 percent pay increase for state employees as well as commitments to $2 billion in long-range water funding and at least $1 billion in tax relief.
Members of both Houses have just over a week to ratify the 2014-15 budget before lawmakers draw the curtain on their 140-day legislative session on May 27.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has threatened to call members back to work in special session if lawmakers don’t meet his demands on water, transportation and tax relief, is reserving judgment on the budget until it passes the Legislature, said a spokesman.
“We will take a look at the bill and make a decision on it once the Legislature sends it to us in its final form,” said deputy press secretary Josh Havens.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the number two member of the House Democratic leadership, called the budget a “a good compromise.”
“I wish the Legislature would fully restore the money that was slashed two years ago but this is a compromise and a positive development and I believe I can support this budget,” said the Tarrant County House member. “While it’s not perfect, it’s a big improvement.”
In contrast to the 2011 session, this year’s proposed budget reflects a statewide economic rebound that gave lawmakers a robust $101 billion in tax revenue, money used to at least partially roll back the cuts from two years ago.
Williams said the budget also calls for a “very significant increase” of about 8 percent for public-funded colleges and universities and about 16 percent for health-related institutions. Community colleges will get a “richer funding formula” under the proposal, Williams said.
Cuts in taxes and fees will total “just north” of $1 billion, Williams said. Perry outlined tax relief as a major priority in his State of the State Address in February, calling for a total package of $1.8 billion.
The plan would also restore reductions in the popular Texas Grants student assistance, providing enough money to reach about 83 percent of eligible students, said budget writers.
Under the proposed salary package, the nearly 220,000 state employees will get a 1 percent pay boost in 2014, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2015.
As part of the multi-faceted budget process, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would create a revolving bank to fund local projects under the state water plan.
The $2 billion to capitalize the fund would come through a drawdown from the state’s nearly $12 billion rainy day fund, proposed in a supplemental budget that will be considered next week.
The commitment to water salvages what appeared to be a doomed effort to fund the 50-year state plan to help Texas confront what planners say is a looming water shortage in the nation’s second most populous state. A water funding bill was killed by a point of order in the House and reviving the proposal was a top priority of budget negotiators.
Leaving $10 billion in the ESF while so many needs still go unmet is wrong. If budgets are moral documents then this one is still wanting.
The budget talks right now are a very fluid situation right now. And there’s an effort afoot to blame the Democrats for the current impasse. It’s BS as Rep. Sylvester Tuner (D-Houston) says via Peggy Fikac, Budget Hardball.
Democrats are standing firm on an infusion of $3.9 billion for public education, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said Thursday, accusing Republicans of moving the goalposts in the budget debate.
“We have never changed,” Turner said.
Turner, speaking after Democrats caucused Thursday, said the agreement with House GOP leadership was that schools would get $2.5 billion in general revenue in the House version of the state budget for the next two years.
In addition, he said, the agreement was that schools would keep $1.4 billion that otherwise could be re-routed by the state due to higher local school property tax revenues.
Schools are funded by a combination of state, local and federal money. When local revenues rise, the state obligation decreases. The amount that could be freed in state general revenue in this way is $1.4 billion, money that has come into play in budget negotiations.
Turner said that Democrats in return would give their support toward the two-thirds vote needed to spend money from the rainy day fund for water infrastructure and for a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate the money, allowing Republicans to avoid breaking the spending cap.
In addition, Turner said, Democrats weren’t going to break the deal when Republicans said they’d re-route another $500 million that the House had agreed to give schools in the current fiscal year, potentially to roads in energy-boom areas like the Eagle Ford Shale.
Turner, however, said Republicans have sought to change the deal because of apparent dissension within their own ranks.
He said that word came from House Speaker Joe Straus’s office that Gov. Rick Perry was saying it was too much money for education and that the most they could do was $3.2 billion, plus $300 million to help school districts with Teacher Retirement System costs.
Perry spokesman Josh Havens denied Wednesday night that Perry was telling lawmakers this.
“What else is new?” Turner said, steely. He said Perry should put out a clear, public statement indicating how much education revenue he supports, if that’s the case.
Turner also said that Democrats had been threatened that if they don’t agree to the GOP position, that they would face a special session in which Republicans would also find it easier to pass now-stalled anti-abortion legislation. He said the sentiment expressed, with Straus in the room, was, “If you don’t accept this deal, it will only get worse for you in the special session.” But Turner said Democrats are willing to risk that because of the important of education.
Straus spokesman Jason Embry didn’t have an immediate comment.
The House has the votes to pass the budget that was agree to earlier. The problem is the deal changed, as Burka details, and we’re supposed to believe that’s the Democrats fault? BS!
Williamson County Elections Administrator Rick Barron is headed to Atlanta, Georgia after the Fulton County Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday to offer him the top elections official position.
Barron submitted his official resignation letter Wednesday afternoon after learning of the decision. While he is looking forward to the new challenges that lie ahead, he is going out with what he calls the most successful election held in Williamson County during his tenure.
A couple of interesting parts of the article
Barron attributes the change in position to always looking to move ahead in his professional career, salary and things that have happened in the recent past during his time in Williamson County.
He was quick to note that the last two reasons accounted for very small factors in his decision.
“I had ambitions to move up for a couple of years. I always look around. Not that I’m always actively pursuing anything but I’ve always looked around. I’ve always looked for an opportunity to move up and do something on a larger scale and the challenges and opportunities that come along with that,” he said. “Maybe 10 percent of it is things that have happened in the past but I pretty much moved on from that.”
“I think there needs to be some stability and leadership there that they’ve been lacking. It’s the same kind of thing that I walked into in Williamson County–a revolving door of leaders. It’s also kind of exciting to live in this city. It seems like a pretty exciting place to be,” Barron added.
“I think it will provide a lot of opportunities for growth and working with some people that are really experienced.”
He said his staff and Williamson County’s leaders have made his time in the county enjoyable.
“I enjoyed my job. I have a lot of respect for Judge Gattis as the head of the elections commission and I think that he has always handled things well. He always provided good advice. He was a thoughtful individual and the rest of the commissioners with one exception, would always let me know if they had a concern. They would pick up the phone and call and ask questions or email me with questions. I always felt like I had an open line of communication with everybody,” he shared. [Emphasis added]
Hopefully the Elections Commission will be able to find a stable qualified replacement like Rick Barron.
There is so much to be said about the shit storm that’s currently engulfing President Obama’s second term. It’s becoming a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy of recent Presidents, (since Nixon?). That the second term becomes a scandal-plagued time when nothing gets done. And that a president only has the first part of his second term to really get anything done. But the reality is that in our current political structure it’s a feature, not a bug.
For those who bankroll our politicians the status quo is just fine. We have a political system that’s beholden to the corporations and the wealthy – a plutocracy. And in a plutocracy the people’s needs get pushed to the side and to keep them there we get “scandal” and the status quo. In other words if Obama, or any President going back to Nixon, was busy doing the people’s business, they wouldn’t need to be worrying the media, outside groups, and terrorism.
If Obama would have come into office and started using his power to save people’s homes, investigate the bankers, and threw some of their asses in jail, there never would have been a tea party. But since the bankers bankrolled his campaign he was unable to do that. And now we are where we are. That’s a very, very simple explanation of why we are where we are but we really don’t get much in depth discussion of why we are where we are nowadays. See what I mean, here and here. (BTW I really like the name Tiger Beat on the Potomac).
If a president get’s into deep shit, and I don’t think Obama is in any serious trouble (yet), the only thing that can save him is the people and/or a really strong economy. So, Mr. President, get busy taking care of the people and right the economy, and you’re second term will be a tremendous success.
Under the agreed upon approach, the House will move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment to create the water fund — though not amendments to fund transportation and schools. But the decision to appropriate $2 billion from the rainy day fund will be made by legislators, not the voters, Pitts said.
The $2 billion will be added to a supplemental budget bill, House Bill 1025, currently awaiting Senate action. That money would be transferred to the new water fund if voters approve the constitutional amendment.
Dollars dedicated by the state constitution are not subject to the spending cap, which could appease some Republicans who had previously objected to efforts to use the rainy day fund money.
“I’m happy to see that part is solved. I’m still concerned that we haven’t addressed our state’s transportation needs. We’re still working on that,” said Williams, R-The Woodlands.
The two chambers were still discussing adding $3.2 billion to the budget for public schools, which would make a significant down payment toward restoring the $4 billion reduction in state aid made in 2011.
That amount would be more than what either chamber had approved in school money in Senate Bill 1, the two-year budget bill for 2014-15.
But that is still not enough new education money in the eyes of some Democrats, who say talk of a deal is premature. Democratic votes would be necessary to cross the 100-vote threshold required to access the rainy day fund.
“We have not signed off on any agreement, and there are 55 Democrats in the Texas House,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, a member of the conference committee negotiating the budget. “We’re interested in water, transportation and public schools, and I think it’s important for us to dance together or we just don’t dance at all.”
Even so, Pitts seemed confident that he could muster 100 votes, perhaps by getting more Republicans on board.
“You will see probably when the Senate sends (House Bill 1025) back to the House, it will include $2 billion in the rainy day fund for water, and we will pass it,” Pitts said.
In other words to get at the money in the Economic Stabilization Fund, it will take, one way or another, the House to reach the 100 vote threshold to get it passed. Getting to that number is proving to be a bit of a puzzle. The tea party members won’t vote for it at all, and the more the ESF is involved the less GOP support it gets. Democrats want transportation and education money, and to get to the right number the ESF must be involved.
As we learned earlier, the House will strip transportation and education spending of rainy day money from the constitutional amendment. And it won’t specify a dollar amount allocated for the water fund, Pitts said. Separately, the two chambers will have to vote to tap the rainy day kitty for $2 billion to start the water effort, he said.
One big question, though, is whether House Democrats will accept the budget negotiators’ decision to restore $3.2 billion of the $5.3 billion in cuts to public schools made last session. They clearly don’t like it. But will they use their only leverage, blocking the two-thirds vote needed to spend money for water from the rainy day fund?
“We need 100 votes,” Pitts said. “I’ve really been working on the floor. You saw me talking to Yvonne” Davis, the Dallas Democrat who is her party’s leader in the House.
For a time Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry met with House members who are pushing for inclusion of $500 million in the budget to repair damage to roads caused by a flurry of oil and gas drilling activity.
“They’re close,” Perry said of budget negotiators trying to wrap up a mega-deal and avoid his threat to keep them in Austin for a special session.
Rep. Jim Keffer, one of two House energy-policy writers who along with Speaker Joe Straus met with Perry, said he hopes oilpatch roads get the $500 million — presumably, out of general-purpose state revenue.
“It’s not just the roads, it’s the whole damn economy,” said Keffer, R-Eastland.
And there are still some that haven’t given up on somemoney for roads. (Despite the study below, it’s likely we still need some new roads in the near future.)
It’s still more likely they get a budget done, then they don’t. The only question left is what it will and won’t include, and whether that will be enough to satisfy the Governor. One of the questions left unanswered is what happens in November if the constitutional amendment fails? It’s likely MIchael Quinn Sullivan and his tea party friends will spend a considerable amount of money trying to kill that amendment.
Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher defined hope as, said, “Belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable.” Now let me say that again. That to be a realist is to recognize that the world is not a domain in which the probable always happens. I mean, Goliath is more likely to win. But, you know what, sometimes David does, you know?
And this one from Why Poverty? Park Avenue: money, power and the American dream.
I like everything about this study, even the parts I don’t particularly agree with. The study is from U.S PIRG, A New Direction. This is from the Executive Summary.
The Driving Boom—a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States—is over.
Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term. The unique combination of conditions that fueled the Driving Boom—from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation—no longer exists. Meanwhile, a new generation—the Millennials—is demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.
Transportation policy in the United States, however, remains stuck in the past. Official forecasts of future vehicle travel continue to assume steady increases in driving, despite the experience of the past decade. Those forecasts are used to justify spending vast sums on new and expanded highways, even as existing roads and bridges are neglected. Elements of a more balanced transportation system—from transit systems to bike lanes—lack crucial investment as powerful interests battle to maintain their piece of a shrinking transportation funding pie.
The time has come for America to hit the “reset” button on transportation policy—replacing the policy infrastructure of the Driving Boom years with a more efficient, flexible and nimble system that is better able to meet the transportation needs of the 21st century.
Here’s an excerpt from the study on page 38 regarding PPP’s, in the section “Increased Risk for Public-Private Partnerships”
As gasoline tax revenues have dried up, federal and state transportation officials have sometimes looked toward publicprivate partnerships (PPPs) as a potential alternative. There are many possible ways for government to partner with the private sector, including traditional forms of financing and procurement that raise private money through the municipal bond market and hire private contractors to provide materials and labor. But most of the attention given to PPPs involves the potential for a private entity to agree to build and/or maintain a highway for a given period of time in exchange for revenue—in many cases, from vehicle tolls.
Uncertainty regarding VMT trends reduces the attractiveness of toll revenue as a payout to private investors. Fewer investors will be willing to invest the massive amounts of capital required to build and maintain a toll road if the number of paying customers is not likely to rise over time. In 2005 and 2006, foreign toll road operators financed by large financial companies made large bets on future traffic volume by purchasing a 99-year lease in Chicago and a 75-year lease in Indiana for major toll roads. In
each of these deals and many smaller ones, the private investors acted as concessionaires, collecting tolls for their own bottom line. Many people thought these toll concessions were the wave of the future.
Several toll concessions have produced less revenue than expected. Some have needed to be bailed out by the government. Others—such as a brand-new billion-dollar toll road in Texas that sought to attract traffic by posting the nation’s fastest speed limit, 85 miles per hour—have faced the threat of a credit downgrade as a result of flagging traffic. These shortfalls in privately collected tolls do not necessarily mean that the government received a “good deal,” since more expensive private capital costs and other potential compensation must also be covered.
Changing vehicle travel trends pose risks not just for private investors but for taxpayers as well—regardless of how the risks are distributed at the outset of a PPP arrangement.
Toll roads, in and of themselves, were never the problem. The problem has always been with how our elected leaders decided to go about paying for, are in reality, financing them.
The main problem I see is that there really is no place in our state or in our country right now where we can have a sane and honest debate on a topic like this. But this study certainly makes it seem like continuing to spend our transportion dollars just on highways is shortsighted and ignorant. In light of this study, it’s definitely time to re-think transportation.
It’s hard to tell most times what far right legislators in Texas hold more dear. Their oath of office:
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of a member of the House of Representatives of the 83nd Legislature of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state, so help me God.
Keep those two things in mind as the legislative session is coming to an end. Because right now the budget fight is boiling down to how to come up with the best scheme to “fund” state government for the next two years. It appears the only way left to increase funding for water, transportation, and education is by passing SJR 1 through the House. SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment that spends close to $6 billion on water, transportation and education. It would need to be ratified by Texas voters in November.
Lead House budget negotiator Rep. Jim Pitts teased with reporters late Monday on whether his agreement to hear a pet Senate measure in committee signals a possible breakthrough in talks to wrap up the session’s remaining money disagreements and avoid a special session.
“We will have a [committee] hearing on it this week,” Pitts, the chairman of House Appropriations, said of a Senate-passed constitutional amendment.
Previously, House leaders were highly critical of the Senate’s idea, saying it would set a bad precedent to kick budget matters to voters.
It needs 100 votes in the House to pass, and that would seem highly unlikely . Since it’s likely that anyone who votes for this will incur the wrath of Perry and the wing nuts (scorecard) for breaking the so-called Texas budget compact, but not their oath of office.
While Paul Burka’s disappointment is tied to his irrational exuberance, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic as the legislative session began. But when this is all viewed through the prism of the post below, it’s not hard to understand why things have gotten to this place. This is a golden opportunity for the extreme right too. And they would likely say they are having their best session ever. The state has plenty of money, and they’re still gutting government. For them it just doesn’t get any better. They’d likely even sign a pledge to that effect.
There’s a fundamental flaw in the way too many of us, who aren’t of the far right ideology, try to fight and reason with the far right/wing nuts. No matter what Jim Pitts and John Zerwas say. They have a completely different belief system and they do not aspire to the same end, and it’s foolish for us to assume they do. I want to make clear that this is not to pick on anyone or any organization, it’s just a realization that we must come to in order to fight the right as is needed.
Public structures—including education, health services, water supplies and transportation infrastructure—help maintain Texans’ quality of life, and they require adequate revenue to function properly. To provide adequate revenue, our state needs a balanced tax code without tax cuts, abatements, and subsidies that let some dodge their share of responsibility. Reducing taxes paid by some businesses means that other businesses or families have to make up the difference to help us take care of our public structures so they continue to take care of us. Investments in Texas’ future through education, health and human services, water and transportation will lead to a better chance for a more prosperous future for all of us than would tax breaks for certain businesses or so-called “economic development incentives” that lower taxes on a select few companies. [Emphasis added]
The hard truth, though, is that spending from the rainy day fund without reforming our state’s antiquated tax system is irresponsible. While we have a growing trillion-and-a-half-dollar economy, our antiquated revenue system — relying primarily on a sales tax on goods — takes an ever smaller percentage of our income, leaving the state too little to support the public services necessary to foster our economy.[Emphasis added]
And that’s just music to the wing nut ear. It’s pretty obvious that an ideology that wants to cut taxes, whether the state has a shortfall or a surplus, and never wants to adequately fund government will never reform our tax code in a way that would pay for things they see as an abomination.
The only way that the needed policy changes that the CPPP proposes and Texas needs is to replace our elected leaders. The sooner the better.
George P. Bush, Republican candidate for Texas Land Commissioner, has a quasi-rap sheet in Florida. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that the heir to the Bush dynasty is either a creepy ex-boyfriend or a stalker. It’s difficult to tell from just the police report.