An issue that’s making some headway in The Lege is a change in how Texas regulates the craft beer industry. This week a series of bills that would modernize (to say the leaset) those regulations go a hearing in a Senate Committee. Via Open The Taps, Legislative Update: Senate Hearing Recap.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013, The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce held a hearing, the first step in the lawmaking process (see our previous post here for an overview on the steps), and one of our board members, Leslie, was able to attend and testify in favor of SB 515-518. You can download the video of the hearing here (you will also need to have RealPlayer to view).
The room was packed with local brewers, lobbyists, the Beer Alliance of Texas, The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, Texas Bar & Night Club Alliance, Licensed Beverage Distributors, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Anheuser-Busch and even some non-industry groups such as the Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Consumer Coalition, Texas Retailers Association, and Texas Association of Business, to name more than few. You can see the full list of witnesses, both testifying and not,here.
Our major takeaways from the hearing are this:
1. There is tremendous support for SB 515-518, and we are cautiously confident that the bills will continue moving through the legislative process.
2. The Committee will vote next Tuesday (March 12th, 2013) IF the committee can come to an agreement on a different, but related bill, SB 639, which OTT does NOT support. If they can’t reach an accord, all of the bills may be pushed back to later in the session.
At this time, it’s difficult to make predictions about what will happen next week, but we will provide any updates as soon as we have them!
Considering that the current laws have been in place since the end of prohibition, they are certainly in need of updating. Here’s what I wrote on the issue of changing the beer laws in Texas last Summer, Beer and Democracy.
While beer laws in Texas are, by no means, the most important issue, this is a microcosm of what is wrong with our state government. A painfully obvious illogical law, whose time has come to be changed, is unable to be changed because of the influence of money in our political system.
This issue highlights the hypocrisy of those who run our state. They prattle on, over and over again, about “evil” regulations, keeping down small business and then, here they are, keeping a regulation in place that is overwhelmingly in favor of the big and powerful, and hurts small business. As has been written here many times before –money erodes trust.
With all due respect, the reason why this has been so difficult and so time-consuming is because there are entrenched interests at work. Big breweries and the big distributors have fought for the status quo because it’s a great deal for them, and they don’t want the competition. Thanks in part to a scaling back of their ask, a persistent grassroots campaign, and a welcome alignment with the Texas Beer Alliance, Sen. Eltife’s bills have a chance. Sen. Carona’s alternate bill is opposed by the craft brewers, the TBA, and as this AP story notes, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Manufacturers and Anheuser-Busch InBev as well. The Chron has more on what a pasting Sen. Carona’s bill took.
The thing is, the Wholesale Beer Distributors don’t need a bill to pass to win – they just need to play defense. Filing Carona’s SB 639 was an extra layer of defense, and perhaps a sign that this time they’re worried. But it’s still easier to kill bills than to pass them, and just because there’s been progress doesn’t mean there will be success. Keep letting your Rep and your Senator know that you support a genuinely free market for beer in Texas. Open the Taps presented written testimony for the Eltife bills and has a recap of the hearing, and the Rivard Report has more.
The package of bills that Sen. Eltife is pushing are better then what we currently have, but it would seem the best solution would be to treat all brewers the same. But like so many things in our politics that can’t be done until money is not the determining factor in who gets democracy.
As Paul Krugman shows today there’s an insane parallel to those who were so wrong about the Iraq war and those who continue to be so wrong about what our economy needs now.
We’re just a few weeks away from a milestone I suspect most of Washington would like to forget: the start of the Iraq war. What I remember from that time is the utter impenetrability of the elite prowar consensus. If you tried to point out that the Bush administration was obviously cooking up a bogus case for war, one that didn’t bear even casual scrutiny; if you pointed out that the risks and likely costs of war were huge; well, you were dismissed as ignorant and irresponsible.
It didn’t seem to matter what evidence critics of the rush to war presented: Anyone who opposed the war was, by definition, a foolish hippie. Remarkably, that judgment didn’t change even after everything the war’s critics predicted came true. Those who cheered on this disastrous venture continued to be regarded as “credible” on national security (why is John McCain still a fixture of the Sunday talk shows?), while those who opposed it remained suspect.
And, even more remarkably, a very similar story has played out over the past three years, this time about economic policy. Back then, all the important people decided that an unrelated war was an appropriate response to a terrorist attack; three years ago, they all decided that fiscal austerity was the appropriate response to an economic crisis caused by runaway bankers, with the supposedly imminent danger from budget deficits playing the role once played by Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Now, as then, this consensus has seemed impenetrable to counterarguments, no matter how well grounded in evidence. And now, as then, leaders of the consensus continue to be regarded as credible even though they’ve been wrong about everything (why do people keep treating Alan Simpson as a wise man?), while critics of the consensus are regarded as foolish hippies even though all their predictions — about interest rates, about inflation, about the dire effects of austerity — have come true.
A nice healthy dose of New Deal style Keynesian Economics is all that’s needed. But that’s not going to happen until there’s serious push back from the left. The sad truth is that it’s not possible to do what’s needed for our economy to rebound in our current political system.
Researchers at the University of Texas back up what we’ve been saying at Construction Citizen for years: far too many construction workers in Texas are the victims of payroll fraud.
They released a study this morning in Austin called “Build a Better Texas”.
Among the study’s findings:
Wage theft results in lost tax revenue: at least $117 million in lost wages and $8.8 million in lost sales tax revenue impact cash-strapped state and local governments.
Texas construction workers are forced to fall back on public safety nets to support their families. Low wages and wage theft contribute to economic instability for construction workers and their families. Fifty-two percent of Texas construction workers report that they were unable to meet the basic needs of their family at some point.
Injured construction workers account for a disproportionate share of uncompensated care costs in Texas hospitals. While construction workers make up roughly 6% of the workforce, hospital data suggest that they account for nearly 20% of work-related uncompensated care costs in Texas emergency rooms.
Rampant payroll fraud results in an estimated $54.5 million in lost unemployment insurance tax revenue and hundreds of millions more in federal income tax. With over 40% of the construction workforce misclassified as independent contractors or paid under the table, Texas – and the federal government – are losing out on critical revenue.
And he points out that legislation has bee,n and will be filed, this legislative session to try and fix the problems. Here’s the link to the report, Building a Better Texas, by the Workers Defense Project.
Even during the depths of the national financial crisis, Texas led the country in home construction, and the industry employed more than 950,000 people in Texas.
But many in the industry say it is also a breeding ground for payroll and tax fraud, and rife with employers who knowingly misclassify their employees, a practice that perpetuates the hiring of illegal workers. Industry moguls and researchers discussed such issues Tuesday at the Capitol, addressing the results of a yearlong research project on conditions in the industry by the Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
The study, titled “Build a Better Texas,” said that more than 40 percent of construction workers in Texas — about 300,000 — are either misclassified or paid under the table. The result is more than $54 million in lost unemployment tax revenue. Payroll fraud in Texas translates to about $1.06 billion in lost federal income tax revenue, according to the study. [Emphasis added]
The study comes at a time when construction leaders have been busy lobbying lawmakers to address what they claim is a loophole that allows employers to purposefully misclassify their employees as independent contractors or subcontractors, also called “1099” employees — named for the employment form they fill out. Employers can use this subcontractor classification to avoid paying payroll taxes, workers’ compensation and overtime.
[Stan Marek, the president and CEO of the Marek Family of Companies] has testified before the Texas Workforce Commission several times, hoping the commission will push lawmakers to fix the problem. He said Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has increased its inspections of I-9 forms, the federal employment eligibility verification. But workers found to be ineligible to work here are not always deported. Instead they’re often forced to go into an underground, cash-based economy if an unscrupulous employer is willing to misclassify the employee as an independent contractor.
Marek said a key component in solving the issue is comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. He acknowledged, however, that if state lawmakers address the construction industry’s concerns but immigration reform fails to occur, it could mean a shortage of workers.
This is an issue that both sides can agree needs to be fixed. The only one’s that will fight these laws are the ones currently profiting from breaking them – bidness cheats. And we all know if this was this was a safety net program for poor Texans Perry and the wing nuts would be screeching, and want to drug test those involved. This drives wages down for all workers in Texas and profits up for the cheaters.
This is a litmus test issue for our elected leaders in Texas. If they continue to stay silent on this, then we’ll know they think it’s alright for these people to scam the taxpayers of Texas.
The Texas GOP, since taking control of all the levers of government in Texas, has been doing everything they can to move taxpayer money into the hands of their campaign contributors, in the form of privatization schemes – aka Public Private Partnerships or P3′s. Instead of government being a pay as you go, non profit system, it’s turned into a system of privatized profits and socialized losses.
They’ve tried it and somewhat succeeded with toll roads, although the biggest boondoggle, the Trans Texas Corridor, mostly failed. They tried privatizing state services which imploded, see Accenture and IBM. They haven’t yet been able to get their hooks completely into public education, but a new attempt is coming in January. And more then likely Kyle Janek will be putting forward some kind of scheme soon.
The reason this is important is because another one for Gov. Rick Perry’s great “achievements” has become nothing more than an give-away to his wealthy corporate contributors. This article from James Moore at Progress Texas PAC points out the latest atrocity, Cancer and Crony Capitalism in Texas.
It is a growing scandal that could forever change Texas politics. As national political players look toward turning red Texas blue, something that would put the electoral college out of Republicans’ reach for years, many see the scandal as the beginning of the end of GOP dominance in Texas.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry and his cronies in and out of public office have diverted funds intended for cutting-edge cancer research into the campaign pockets of Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. You read that right. Proceeds from millions in taxpayer-backed bonds awarded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) have fallen victim to corruption and cronyism. Cronies get the state money; the cronies give some of the money back to Perry and others.
The agency might better be named the Crony Capitalist Research Institute as searches for cancer prevention, treatment and cure are sacrificed to the feeble political ambitions of a few petty politicians and greedy plutocrats. It is hard to imagine a greater moral failing. Unless, of course, you remember that Perry and his cronies are the very same people fighting against the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. People are going to get sick and die because of the actions of Perry and others. That is not hyperbole or political spin.
CPRIT is the nation’s second largest source of cancer research money, behind only the federal government. Texas voters approved the agency’s bonding authority in November 2007 (a few days later, wannabe recipients of the largesse were lavishng money on Perry and Dewhurst). The agency could spend $3 billion over ten years.
Amid calls for state and federal criminal investigations (I filed one of the state complaints under the auspices of Progress Texas PAC), agency officials are scrambling. Now it has been revealed that key emails among those officials have disappeared. That is a sign that evidence is being destroyed and that a coverup is underway.
The players involved include such stalwart Perry-ites as James Leininger and Jimmy Mansour. They have also been central players in the right wing’s nationwide effort to privatize public education. Even though he once held stock in a company that received CPRIT funding, Mansour remains chairman of the agency’s Oversight Committee. Other Oversight Committee members include Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and State Comptroller Susan Combs. Perry, Dewhurst and the Texas House Speaker appoint the others.
This scandal opens a window into the crony capitalists’ privatization mania. What will happen to public education when the greedy and morally unmoored get their hands on taxpayer money through school privatization? Or through Medicare vouchers? Or Social Security private accounts?
If these people will sacrifice victims of cancer to further their own wealth and power, it is doubtful they’ll resist the temptation to destroy education or raid our earned savings and health care insurance. If crimes have been committed, maybe the perps will get to spend some time in a private prison. That might end privatization mania forever.
If Texas taxpayers could only get so lucky. He points to these three articles for anyone that needs to get up to speed - here, here and here.
This is just the way our dysfunctional government malfunctions with our current leadership at the helm. Rick Perry as the longest serving Texas governor in Texas history, by far, has more control over Texas than any governor ever. In modern history he is the only governor to serve at least two consecutive four year terms. There are Perry loyalists in every nook can cranny of Texas government. He, essentially, owns them all.
All of this proves that the Texas GOP’s plan since taking over the levers of power in Texas is to shift taxpayer money to their corporate sponsors through privatization schemes. It the scam that’s always been there for everyone to see.
My thoughts on the fiscal whatchamacallit are that it’s a political ploy created by Congress and can just as easily be ended by Congress, as if it never existed. It is a totally contrived piece of crap to force them to act, or compromise. Obviously it isn’t working as designed. They should agree, at least, that this was a bad idea and go home until the next Congress starts.
The proposed plans on both sides are idiotic thus far, No Money There.
As Krugman says, many of the preferred by the Villager solutions to nonexistent problems don’t actually save the government any money. Raising the Medicare age a bit wouldn’t save much public money, and would likely end up costing more in the net. Also, too, suffering, bankruptcy, and misery.
But we know this, as the preferred method for cutting the deficit is… cutting taxes..
There is a real way to fix our problem, it’s called Prosperity for All. It’s really pretty simple:
Prosperity economics is built on three pillars: growth, security and democracy. These pillars reinforce oneanother and are intertwined politically and economically.
1. Dynamic, innovation?led growth, grounded in job creation, public investment and broad opportunityWe must take immediate action to jumpstart our sagging economy. In the future, we need to invest inpeople and productivity that will lead to good jobs and rising wages. Growth alone is not sufficient tosustain our nation. We need long?term growth that is broadly enjoyed, sustainable in light of ourresource and energy constraints and driven by investments in our workforce and strong collectivebargaining rules that raise our standard of living.
2. Security for workers and their families, the environment and government financesMarkets work better when working families feel a basic security for their futures. A dynamic andcompetitive market requires a strong foundation that is reinforced by programs like Social Security andMedicare that guarantee a secure retirement and access to health care. Markets also work betterwhen governments have the resources to operate smoothly far into the future. These resources arebest raised through a progressive tax structure that supports the middle class; no more tax giveawaysfor corporations and super rich.
3. Democratic voice, inclusivity and accountability in Washington and the workplaceMoney is increasingly corrupting and corroding democracy. When economic winners are allowed towrite the economic rules, the rest of America becomes poorer and our political system weaker. Fordemocracy to thrive, strong Unions, and empowered citizens and community organizations are neededto ensure that workers and the broader public have an organized, effective voice in our politics.
But ideas like that rarely get mentioned and when they do they get shouted down even on the SCLM:
The fiscal whatchamacallit is a sham and a scam. Congress invented this….Frankenscam…and now Congress should end it. The people want higher taxes on the wealthy and no cuts to the safety net. The only way this will happen is if the people start pressuring them to do what’s right. Click her to stop the grand swindle.
Does it really surprise anyone that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), championed in 2007 by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has turned into an unaccountable transfer of tax payer money to his campaign donors? Via the Texas Tribune, Investigations of CPRIT’s Grants Process Are Pushed.
State lawmakers expressed concern about CPRIT’s grant process Friday after it was revealed one grant — $11 million awarded to Peloton Therapeutics — was approved without a scientific or business review.
“Serious problems have come to our attention,” Sen. Jane Nelson, F-Flower Mound, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, wrote in a letter to the leaders of CPRIT: Jim Mansour, the founding chairman, and Bill Gimson, the executive director. The lawmakers asked for a written description of how an $11 million grant could have been awarded without a review process.
In response to the letter, the CPRIT oversight committee is preparing a report to turn over to lawmakers. In a statement to The Dallas Morning News, a representative for CPRIT said the award to Peloton Therapeutics was ratified in 2010 after it had been “improperly” placed on the oversight committee’s agenda.
Texas voters approved the creation of CPRIT, which awards $300 million annually, in 2007 as a state constitutional amendment. Since 2010, the state has awarded more than 400 grants for a total of $755 million through the program.
Two left-leaning organizations, Texans for Public Justice and Progress Texas, say law enforcement agencies should also be involved in the investigation of CPRIT’s grant process. The groups expressed concerns that lawmakers may not fully disclose the extent of alleged impropriety at CPRIT, because many grant recipients have given large donations to Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican lawmakers.
“The taxpayers assume that this money was going to go to efforts at finding a cure for cancer,” said Glenn Smith, a board member of Progress Texas. “Instead of doing that, it appears to be just another political slush fund being given to Perry contributors.”
Josh Havens, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email that “Gov. Perry expects CPRIT to apply rigorous review standards to every decision that includes taxpayer funds.” He said the governor agrees with fellow lawmakers that a thorough investigation of CPRIT’s grant review process should be conducted and “taxpayers deserve to have the full background of this situation.”
The biotech company that bypassed normal peer reviews to win $11 million in state cancer funds had close ties to U.T Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Top donors to the Medical Center’s PAC gave $1.6 million to Texas politicians who control the state’s CPRIT cancer fund. These donors include the oil-rich Hunt-Hill clan, which has stakes in a venture capital fund that bankrolled Peloton Therapeutics. A director of that venture capital fund once filed a tax protest that personally saved Governor Perry $14,000 in local property taxes.
As far as Perry and the wing nuts are concerned government is here to service the wealthy. Just look at what’s transpired in Texas over the last 10 years since the GOP took over.
The former vice president for health care policy at an Austin-based, conservative think tank has become Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek’s “special adviser,” concentrating on two urgent and thorny social services issues.
Mary Katherine Stout, who also served as budget and policy director to Gov. Rick Perry in recent years, is working for Janek on ideas for overhauling the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said Thursday.
From Stout’s work history of the announcement about her joining Gov. Rick Perry’s staff in 2008.
Prior to joining the Foundation in February 2005, Stout worked for then-Chair Diane Rath at the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), where Stout served as policy analyst and handled issues among the two-dozen TWC programs including TANF and child care.
Stout previously worked for the Texas Conservative Coalition and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI), working closely with the TCCRI task forces on fiscal policy, health and human services, and school finance reform.
Additionally, Stout worked as a policy analyst at the Texas Legislative Council and in the office of former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster.
Stout received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Texas A&M University.
In other words she bounced back-and-forth between the government bureaucracy and the corporate bureaucracy of right-wing think tanks her whole career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se. Her expertise is in gutting government as a ideological political hack. This Andrea Grimes post points out, referenced in the above DMN article, Stout’s boss Kyle Janek is trying to use his best political spin, in a misguided attempt to discredit the how many uninsured adults there are in Texas.
Because Kyle Janek doesn’t believe—despite credible, widely accepted evidence to the contrary—that one of Texas’ most pressing health problems, its high number of uninsured adults, is real.He doesn’t believe that more than a quarter of Texans are uninsured, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. He told a Texas Tribune reporter in early October that he believed that number to be “inflated,” and then reiterated his point in an extended interview with Tribune editor Evan Smith on October 31st. (Through his press representatives, he refused an interview with RH Reality Check.) Here’s his most recent take via the Tribune:
“It’s not that I don’t believe those numbers. I don’t believe the reasoning for those numbers.”
Janek’s problem: he said the Census Bureau only takes a “snapshot” by asking people if they’re uninsured, and doesn’t ask them if they had insurance in the past or if they think they have a job lined up with insurance in the future. Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau’s “snapshot” has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987′s 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.
That’s a remarkably consistent snapshot of something that Janek seems to believe changes for millions of people by the day. Janek says he isn’t sure why Texas “is different” when it comes to health care, but he told the Tribune it could be because the weather here is nice.
“Do we have so many people that are temporarily uninsured? Or is it the general climate of better weather and glorious place to live? Folks come here, and that attracts more folks with health care needs or disabilities?” he wondered during the interview. Surely our high uninsured numbers couldn’t be due to the fact that Texas jobs generally don’t provide health insurance, that Medicaid in the state is limited, that insurance rates are unregulated or that Texas has a large immigrant population, as the Washington Postreported last year. No, it’s probably just the purty weather.
I called Dr. John Holcomb, a pulmonologist who chairs the Texas Medical Association’s committee on Medicaid, to find out what he makes of Janek’s stance. (Spoiler alert: the TMA’s official position is that “Texas is the uninsured capital of the United States.”) Holcomb told me that Janek’s comments are “a perfect example of how Dr. Janek is not ready for prime time.”
Holcomb told me that while Janek is a “very good speaker” and “very articulate,” when it comes to uninsured rates in Texas, “everyone knows exactly what those numbers are.” They aren’t inflated. They’re real. They’re accepted by public health professionals all over the state, including Dr. Janet Realini, the president of unplanned pregnancy prevention group Healthy Futures of Texas. Realini has been a vocal supporter of maintaining the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and a critic of the state’s and the HHSC’s cuts and changes to money-saving family planning programs.
And Grimes goes on to say this about Stout’s new position.
Her name is Mary Katherine Stout, and for $150,000 per year, the former Perry staffer, Wal-Mart defender and far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation economics “expert” will act as a “special advisor,” “involved in a number of policy and planning issues,” according to HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. Goodman toldRH Reality Check that Stout will be “looking at ways [Texas HHSC] can work with medical schools to support their efforts to make sure Texas has enough health professionals.”
In the past, Stout has particularly focused her efforts on criticizing Medicaid and especially CHIP, the popular children’s Medicaid program, which she has said is rife with luxury car-driving freeloaders and should be closed to people who are verily rolling in cash and furs, like “those making as much as $40,000 annually for a family of four.” Stout’s coldness is unusual even for Texas right-wingers, and her cruel preoccupation with making sure as few Texas children as possible receive needed aid borders on the bizarre. To that end, this was her 2007 proposal for fighting “The Left” in the National Review:
Perhaps we should fight their strategy with our own campaign to tell stories of success, of people working hard and making good decisions for their family, of people who made something out of nothing, or who turned something into more. Yes, send me your stories of success, of personal responsibility, and of government’s depredations on a family trying to make ends meet.
These are the words of a “special advisor” on Texas public health care policy, who’ll be whispering in the ear of a man who believes the state has “inflated” uninsured numbers because hey, poor people can always go walk in and get some open heart surgery at a public hospital or amorphous medical school of dubious funding origin.
No one should fool themselves that the current leaders of our government in Texas, the far right of the Texas GOP, is going to use government to help the people of Texas. They want to privatize government and make sure their campaign donors can profit from taxpayers. That’s what their version of the “free market” ideology has become. This is just more of the same. People like this who think government is the problem, will never come up with government solutions to help people. And if we keep electing them nothing is going to change.
There are so many families in Texas who are living in poverty through no fault of their own – because of unforeseen medical bills or a layoff. People that are victims of circumstance, and are working hard to get out of their situation but can’t. Far too many of us are just a job loss or a medical emergency away from being in the same situation. That’s what this trailer for a documentary called A Fighting Chance brings to light.
Anyone who want to learn more can check out this free screening and discussion of the documentary on December 6th, via the CPPP, A Fighting Chance.
We are thrilled to share the two-minute trailer of our 30-minute documentary A Fighting Chance, which sheds light on what it really takes for families to survive and thrive in Texas and exposes the tough choices families must make on a daily basis.
The film will chronicle every step of their journey as they fight to meet their most basic needs. Thanks to the generosity of Methodist Health Care Ministries, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Citi Foundation, we hope to touch the hearts and minds of Texans by exposing the harsh reality of poverty and challenging our common assumptions.
A Fighting Chance will air on KLRU Austin, the local PBS station, and others statewide in a few weeks. If you are in Austin, please join us next week for a premiere screening of the film followed by a panel discussion:
Legislative leaders on Thursday will set a state spending limit for the next two-year budget that critics, including Gov. Rick Perry, say does little to actually limit spending.
Perry and his allies are once again pushing to tighten the spending cap, which voters overwhelming added to the state constitution in 1978, and apply it to more of the Texas budget. Legislation has already been filed in both the Texas House and the Senate to put a constitutional amendment before voters next year.
“As a small government conservative, I believe that government growth, if any, should be kept to the bare minimum,” Perry said at a news conference in Houston earlier this fall promoting his five-point Texas Budget Compact, aimed at controlling the cost of government.
Perry has long argued that the spending cap is too loose. But key lawmakers haven’t shared his view in the past, pointing to Texas’ low-spending history. In 1990, Texas spent $1,628 per person from state general revenue — money that pays for public schools, courts, prisons and other basic services — compared to $1,690 in 2012, said Eva DeLuna Castro, a fiscal analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans.
But some say the proposal might get more traction now that more revenue is pouring into state coffers — thus making significant increases in spending possible for the first time in years.
“I want to be sure that our taxpayers know that we are going to be fiscally responsible with their money in both good times and bad times, no matter who is in charge of Texas,” said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who filed the spending limit legislation.
Tea party supporters have also amplified the calls for more spending restraint, even though Texas’ state spending per capita is among the lowest in the country.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a limited government think tank, estimated the tighter spending cap, if it had been in place since 1990, would have forced total state spending to be $41 billion — or 43.5 percent — less in 2012.
“I can’t say there is that much overspending,” said James Quintero, a fiscal policy analyst with policy foundation. Still, he added, “there are plenty of areas to cut.”
Depending upon who is doing the math, Texas lawmakers have either allowed state spending to soar to unsustainable levels or they have kept that growth in check as the state’s economy and population have increased.
The policy foundation, an influential voice for many conservative legislators, maintains that total state spending since 1990 has increased by 310 percent, far outstripping the growth in population and inflation.
The Legislative Budget Board, which is the official scorekeeper on state fiscal matters, asserts that the policy foundation’s calculations are incorrect, and that the group inflates the growth by starting its count the year before the last major tax increase took effect. The budget board reported that Texas’ total budget has increased 176 percent over the past two decades.
But that number drops to an average rate of 1.5 percent per budget biennium when adjusted for population growth and inflation. In fact, when federal dollars are taken out of the equation, the adjusted state spending has decreased by 2.6 percent over the same period of time, according to a budget board analysis.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said ratcheting down the spending cap is an arbitrary and overbearing regulation that chokes off investments in Texas’ people, businesses and economy.
“Things like regressive budget-writing regulations just aren’t designed to promote an honest conversation about what Texas needs, what that costs and how it can be provided as efficiently and transparently as possible,” Watson said. “Instead, they seek to bind the state’s hands and make it harder to tend to our future.”
It doesn’t matter what the economic conditions show, their only plan is to cut government spending and lower taxes on the wealthy. The rest be damned. Logic tells us that if we had to cut the budget when we had a funding crisis, now that the budget has turned almost 180 degrees that funding should be restored. But that’s not how Perry and the wing nuts work.
As the state’s workforce in areas such as education and protective services was shrinking last year, some agencies led by elected officeholders were growing.
Texas agencies shed about 3,200 workers in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, a reduction of about 2.1 percent, a new report from the state’s auditor shows. But the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office and the general land office — each run by a Republican elected while touting the virtues of shrinking government — added workers.
Aides to Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stressed Tuesday that each remains below hiring maximums set by the Legislature.
That’s right do as I say, not as I do. There’s more.
Former state District Judge Scott McCown of Austin, who runs the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, said he doesn’t begrudge successes by Perry, Abbott and Patterson at getting a few more employees.
“They needed more staff and had the clout to get them, while human service agencies had the need, but not the clout,” McCown said.[Emphasis added]
“You can’t achieve the same efficiencies in public services as in many businesses because the job is fundamentally different,” he said. “You can’t eliminate staff and more efficiently remove a child from an abusive home. Someone has to walk that child out the door hand in hand.”
The Department of Family and Protective Services, which includes Child Protective Services, lost 112 employees last year, a decrease of 1 percent. CPS is struggling to retain caseworkers and has had to pull workers from Dallas and Houston to manpower-shortage areas such as Austin and Midland.
Other major departments absorbed much bigger reductions, including the Texas Education Agency (down 24 percent), the Juvenile Justice Department (13 percent), Parks and Wildlife (5 percent) and the Department of Aging and Disability Services (4 percent), Keel’s audit shows.
Gary Anderson, president of the Texas Public Employee Association, said lawmakers and the governor “have absolute control” over general state government but not over public universities, colleges and school districts, which have other sources of income than the state.
Agencies for the most part “continue to meet the mission,” even with fewer hands, said Anderson, whose group calls itself the oldest and largest state employee group and not a union. “There are some problem areas,” he said, citing the prison system’s inability to retain guards, especially in the booming oilfields of South Texas, where they can easily double their salaries.
It’s pretty clear that these three “small government conservatives” only want everyone else’s agency to go through austerity. As Kuff points out today, they’ve had no problem taking in out on public educaiton, Eight billion dollars.
All this came from direct testimony – the state had not had the chance to cross-examine Moak as of the writing of those stories – so there will likely be more of these depressing numbers to come. The Moak, Casey website is a pretty good resource for following the trial on a blow-by-blow basis. Here’s an interesting tidbit from their embedded Twitter feed: “Moak: from 10-11 to 11-12 school year, 26.5k fewer teachers and staff while Texas schools added 44.5k students #schoolfinancetrial #txlege”. With numbers like that, what happened next should not surprise us.