When applying for work, jobseekers generally aren’t aren’t asked about their political, religious, or moral beliefs.
In most cases employers know they can’t ask those sorts of questions under the U.S. Constitution and equal employment opportunity rules. But Williamson County commissioners don’t believe those rules applied when they appointed a new constable.
After Williamson County Precinct 3 Constable Bobby Gutierrez retired, commissioners had to appoint a new constable. They interviewed five candidates. And the questions they asked those candidates during the interviews raised eyebrows.
“Was I for gay marriage or against gay marriage?” former candidate Robert Lloyd said he was asked. “The next question was, what was my thoughts on abortion? Was I pro-life or pro-choice?”
“I knew the question was coming about church because in the realm of the questions that were being asked,” Lloyd continued.
Lloyd has more than 27 years of law enforcement experience. He was one of five candidates interviewed for the constable post which pays a taxpayer funded salary of $71,785 a year.
Other candidates have also confirmed to KXAN they were asked about their religion, their stance on abortion and their views on gay marriage. But the Williamson County Commissioners don’t see anything wrong with it.
“In general, this is a process that is different than a normal employment interview, because it is an elected position,” said County Commissioner Valerie Covey.
The decision on who got the job was made solely by the four commissioners and County Judge Dan Gattis.
Critics say the law is clear: Questions about religion, abortion, and gay marriage during job interviews are off limits.
“There’s no semantical dance out of this one,” said Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “You can’t ask religious questions. You can’t ask associational questions. The only questions you can ask are job-related, specific questions.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear and so is the Texas Constitution.
And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC rulesstate “An employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information.”
“We’ve crossed this bridge decades and decades ago, you know, that we don’t do this type of discrimination,” said Harrington. “This is really gross malfeasance with respect to the taxpayers money.”
“They don’t understand why they were asked, how it pertained to the job at all. They’re not happy about it,” said former constable candidate Barry Simmons.
Simmons has nearly three decades of law enforcement experience, including many years in the Precinct 3 Constables Office. In the last election he received more than 48 percent of the primary vote. But he didn’t get an interview when the commissioners were seeking a replacement for Gutierrez. Simmons says he plans to run again in the next election.
After asking about gay marriage, abortion and religion, commissioners unanimously appointed Kevin Stofle, a former assistant chief with the Georgetown Police Department.
Stofle does have decades of law enforcement experience, but he also has family ties to the commissioners court. His brother-in-law, Hal Hawes is the commissioners’ attorney. Hawes’ wife is still registered as the creator of the website www.kevinstofle.com.
But Commissioner Covey says that had nothing to do with the decision to appoint Stofle.
“Mr. Hawes was not involved in the process at all,” said Covey.
“We made several attempts to contact all Williamson County Commissioners to find out how questions on gay marriage, abortion, and religion could possibly have anything to do law enforcement experience and qualifications for being a constable. All but Valerie Covery said they were too busy to go on camera. But a couple of them did weigh in via emails.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said the constable was appointed through a statutory process
that is political by nature. And she said that because the constable is normally an elected position, to not include those types of questions would have been naive.
Judge Dan Gattis said in an email that a variety of questions were asked that were relevant to someone being appointed as an elected official.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said she was in meetings and a workshop for the week and too busy to respond.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison and Constable Stofle did not return calls or emails.
Don’t we take issue with foreign governments do stuff like this? It’s as if the commissioners think that since a member of the GOP resigned they must find one for the job. And therefore party platform type questions are warranted. But they’re not. If candidates were excluded because of their answers to those questions, and not their qualifications for the job – and there may be no way to get the truth about that, since the decision was made in “executive session” – then that’s against the law.
A couple of points are easy to see. This is not being denied, so it happened, and they don’t seem to mind that they violated the constitution or employment law. It’s looks bad that almost all of them don’t want to talk about it. And they don’t think they did anything wrong. Also, obviously constables do not legislate and will never have to vote on matters of marriage, abortion, or religion. A constable is a “public servant”. A servant of all the people and not a servant of the “right” kind of people.
But this is the same old story that’s been going on in Williamson County for some time. When everyone in the county government is of the same religion party, it makes it very insular and secretive. It certainly looks like they wanted to hire someone who was very much like them – not an outsider. And the only way to do that was to ask those kinds of questions. Not to mention the questions of conflict of interest.
This is the kind of government the voters of Williamson County continue to support on election day. It’s frustrating as hell, but it will continue until more people who believe a government like this is wrong start showing up to vote and elect some different people.
Gov. Rick Perry, conservative groups and tea party-backed House Republicans forced House leaders Thursday to pull down a bill that would have increased car registration fees to help build more roads.
Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, said a vote count showed a compromise version of his bill probably could squeak through in the House.
However, he said, “I didn’t move forward because of the prospects of cutting the members up on a vote [on a bill] that may not become law.
Let’s put aside scorecards for now. But we have a legislator who thought his bill would pass this stage of the process, but doesn’t want to continue to fight for its passage. Isn’t that what legislating is all about? Get your bill through one stage, and then start fighting for it at the next stage. Is this where The Lege is now? No legislation can move forward, no votes can be taken unless they’re safe, and the legislation is guaranteed to pass.
The reason it’s this way is that too many, GOP legislators in particular, don’t want to get on the wrong side of the post-session scorecards of groups like Empower Texans. Or face the wrath of TPPF, and Perry and the wing nuts.
The truly sad part is that Texas really needs to spend money on transportation infrastructure.
Asked if House leaders are finished with transportation funding this session, Darby said they’ve completed consideration of new sources of highway money.
“This is the last bill coming out of the House to add transportation infrastructure funding,” he said.
Darby said that’s a shame because Texas has virtually no money for launching new road projects. He said the state has borrowed almost all that it can borrow to build highways. It’s at risk of choking off economic and population growth.[Emphasis added]
The state hasn’t generally raised vehicle registration fees since 1985, nor the gasoline tax since 1991, he noted. And families bear a $1,500 “hidden tax” each year in car repairs and lost productivity from being stuck on bad roads and in traffic jams, Darby said.
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said the bill was a test of seriousness about tackling big problems.
“If we really want to govern, at some point you can’t live on 1991 revenue streams at 2013 prices,” Aycock said.
Darby replied, “A dollar in 1991 is worth 62 cents today.”
But freshman Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, said he prefers looking at the motor vehicle sales tax as a way to fund more roads. Frank suggested he would vote against Darby’s bill, as did Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana.
It’s hard to feel sorry for Darby and the GOP. They’ve let the right wing take over their party and now we are all suffering, themselves included. And now that it’s obvious to most people that we need to spend money we do have, we can’t even do that.
At a recent House committee hearing, a health care analyst for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation argued against a plan to extend Medicaid benefits to low-income adults, even though the federal government has promised to pay most of the cost.
Already, a declining number of doctors are willing to see Medicaid patients, reasoned the foundation’s John Davidson. He said it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to add more patients to a program that is, essentially, broken.
Under questioning by lawmakers, Davidson acknowledged that doctors opt out of Medicaid because it pays so little. Who determines how much doctors are paid?, Davidson was asked.
“The Legislature of the state of the Texas,” he replied.
Rep. Garnet Coleman jumped at the opportunity: “If you claim it is broken, do you think we broke it?” the Houston Democrat asked. If doctors are being driven out of Medicaid by poor pay, he argued, “the only responsibility for that is us.”
The exchange reduced the legislative session’s most incendiary debate to its core. To Gov. Rick Perry and other conservatives, the state should reject Medicaid expansion, even though the federal government has offered to pay $100 billion over the next decade for a $15 billion match, because the program is “broken.”
So, who broke it, and how?
Coleman’s observation provides part of the answer: Just last session, the Legislature trimmed $486 million in state money paid to Medicaid providers, and ended a student loan-forgiveness program for new doctors exclusively serving Medicaid patients.
The point about the reimbursement rates being set by the Legislature has been made before, but can’t be made often enough. If you don’t maintain your car, you have no business complaining when it craps out on you. Given the flexibility that the federal government has already shown Florida and Arkansas, there’s no question that co-pays will be allowed – Rep. Coleman has been talking about that, and some other items on Texas’ wish list, all along. The rest is up to us. And please note, if we really cared about controlling costs we’d be all over the Medicaid option. There’s no reason at all to believe that the private insurance way – the Arkansas option – will be less expensive. At the end of the day, if we don’t expand access to health care, via Medicaid or some convoluted not-Medicaid process, it will be because the Republicans chose not to, not because it didn’t make sense not to do so.
Kuff also points us to this Paul Burka article, Health Scare, on the politics of Medicaid expansion in Texas.
During the press conference, Perry remarked, “Only three out of every ten doctors are accepting new Medicaid patients.” That statement would subsequently be judged “mostly false” by the nonpartisan website PolitiFact, but whose fault is it in the first place that doctors won’t take Medicaid patients? The previous Legislature slashed provider rates, which is the amount of money doctors are reimbursed by the state for their services, and Perry signed the budget that slashed them. So I asked the governor if the real reason that doctors don’t want to take Medicaid patients is that the state has made the program unattractive to physicians. “Do you believe Medicaid is broken?” Perry shot back, answering my question with a question. Yes, I said. But provider rates are one reason it’s broken, and the governor knows it.
Yet another serious issue lurks in the weeds: the refusal to expand Medicaid could cost Texas employers as much as $448 million in fines because the Affordable Care Act penalizes some companies when workers can’t obtain affordable coverage, according to a recent report by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. Is Perry really going to stiff those employers? Not likely. But if Texas rejects Medicaid, the state will have to come up with a plan that will satisfy employers.
And because Medicaid’s expansion was conceived in part as a new source of revenue for hospitals, Obamacare ratchets back the disproportionate share payments—ignore the jargon, please—that the federal government currently makes to providers who treat the uninsured. Texas, for instance, received almost $1 billion in disproportionate share payments in 2011. Under Obamacare, providers in Texas will receive far, far less. What’s the chance that the state will step up to cover that gap?
The benefits to Texas, especially the state’s medical community, of accepting the expansion are huge. Several economists, including the Waco-based Perryman Group, have done reports on the subject in an effort to persuade Perry that expansion is good for business, particularly for hospitals, which could receive more than $60 billion in additional funding. Again, this has fallen on deaf ears. The state has a long history of relying on emergency rooms for treating Medicaid patients, but emergency room care is the most expensive care there is. Most Medicaid patients can’t afford to pay for their care, and so the hospital must recoup its costs from urban counties with hospital districts that can levy and collect taxes. The economics of our health care system amounts to a tax hike on property owners, but this bit of information is also carefully hidden from the voters.
Meanwhile, the state continues to have the highest rate of people without health insurance in the country. All of this could be changed in a single stroke of the pen if Perry were to accept expansion of Medicaid. At the moment, he has painted himself into a corner, but the pressure from chambers of commerce and the medical community is building. Noticeably absent from the press conference was Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who also doesn’t support expansion but has said that the state needs to find a way to move forward and address the problem. “We need to move beyond the word ‘no,’?” he told a reporter earlier in the session. Perry is talking tough, as he always does, but there is too much at stake for him not to find a face-saving exit.
The politics of Medicaid expansion raises a timeless issue: What is the proper role of government? As conservative groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation see it, Medicaid should be left to the states. The refrain that is often heard here is “We want a Texas solution to our problems.” Translation: we want the federal government to give us the money for a block grant for health care and then butt out. The TPPF’s version of a state health care program leaves almost all the decision-making to the state and virtually nothing to the federal government. That is a scary prospect considering the Legislature’s lack of commitment to health care over the years, which has included kicking children off the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2003 and making access to Medicaid more difficult. But when it comes to Medicaid, the federal government is unlikely to grant Texas’s wish to be in charge of its own destiny, a reality that Perry will find hard to accept.
Scary indeed. Just look at any of the privatization schemes that have been implemented under Perry – Accenture and CPRIT for instance – and they have not turned out well. Letting Perry and the wing nuts in The Lege mess with Medicaid would break it for sure. Which is probably what they want, they’re good a breaking government. They’ve got their hands on public education right now and it’s not looking good.
The part about the Medicaid expansion debate that frustrates me, is the same thing that frustrated me about the “fixing” health care debate at the national level. The solution that most other nations use, a single-payer system, is not part of the discussion. Which forces any solution to be some bastardized government/market Frankenstein that works for nobody, and only causes more frustration.
But a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that when you compare the proper groups, Medicaid actually does a better job delivering access and affordable coverage than either private coverage or Medicare.
As Aaron Carrol summed up at the Incidental Economist, the study focused on the underinsured — that is, people on insurance plans that just aren’t very good — rather than those who have no insurance. More importantly, it only looked at people at our below 125 percent of the poverty line. That’s important because the problem with the studies showing Medicaid delivering inferior results to private coverage is that it’s difficult for their comparisons to avoid the apples-to-oranges problem. Medicaid is meant for poorer Americans — you have to be below a certain income threshold to qualify for it — but private coverage is available to the poor and well-off alike. It’s a matter of basic economic logic that the private plans only the well-off can afford will will provide much better access and quality care then the plans the poor can afford as well. Products poor people can afford tend to be poor products.
That’s why safety net programs like Medicaid, which provide people more assistance than they could afford in pure free market world, are so important. And why, when the proper apples-to-apples comparison is made between poor people on private insurance and poor people on Medicaid, the latter’s performance improves remarkably:
For the purposes of this study, underinsurance was defined as (1) having out-of-pocket expenses that were more than 5% of household income, (2) delaying or failing to get needed medical care because of cost, or (3) delaying or failing to get needed medications because of cost. This study specifically looked at adults who had full-year continuous coverage in some form, but had an income less than 125% of the poverty line. They specifically wanted to know how many of those people were still underinsured.
They found that more than a third of these adults were underinsured. What’s more is what kind of insurance left people underinsured. More than 65% of those people on Medicare were underinsured. More than 37% of people with private insurance were underinsured. But only 26% of people on Medicaid were underinsured. People who were underinsured were more likely to be White, in poor health, and unemployed. Even after adjusting for these factors, those on Medicaid were significantly less likely to be underinsured than those on private insurance (odds ratio 0.22).
The gap between Medicaid and Medicare, meanwhile, is most likely due to Medicare’s higher co-pays and other forms of cost-sharing. While this generally won’t be a problem for seniors in the middle class and up, it can be difficult for poor seniors to meet their share of the costs.
Other studies have come to similar conclusions as the one above. The Government Accountability Office found that people on Medicaid didn’t report any more difficulties obtaining medical care or prescription medicines than people on private insurance. Medicaid does have a problem when it comes to providing adequate dental care, and the GAO found more complaints from Medicaid recipients on that score. Children on Medicaid also tended to fair better than adults on Medicaid. And among the Medicaid recipients who did report difficulties, more of them cited long wait times, delayed appointments, and difficulty contacting providers than people on private coverage.
So Medicaid does have its challenges. Its reimbursement rates for doctors are significantly lower than Medicare’s, meaning that more care providers are willing to accept Medicare patients, and the program’s access and networks are better — assuming the recipient can afford the cost-sharing. But the way to fix this is to bulk up government spending on Medicaid, which is currently well below Medicare’s levels. And Carrol laws out a number of ways the health care reform passed by President Obama and the Democrats will improve things.
It looks like the best thing that could happen to health care in Texas would be for Perry and the wing nuts in The Lege to get out of the way and let the federal government handle it. But, once again, the only way that will ever happen is to change the leadership in our state.
Cohn lays out all the reasons why this report actually proves we should expand Medicaid, and he wonders why conservatives and libertarians are so eager to dismiss it. I’ll tell him why: conservatives think these poor people are lazy and deserve what they get and the libertarians just don’t care about them at all. That’s all there is to it. After all, it’s not as if any of them have any answers. They simply assume that there will always be lots of poor, sick people around for whom they have no responsibility. For conservatives the only question for society is how to punish them for their lack of initiative and for libertarians they’re simply of no concern at all. Either way, the end result is that nobody should have to give up even one nickel to help pay for the poor — and if something happens and you find yourself among them, you’re on your own.
These people believe that’s just the way life is. The only way to get decent medical care and fully protect yourself from financial calamity is to get rich. Really rich. It’s the catch-all answer for everything that ails you. Anyone who doesn’t has only herself to blame.
Their cruel reasoning explained in much greater detail here.
I got the feeling watching the debate yesterday over the water bill, that it had very little to do with H2O. The debate was more about whether to pay for the water bill from the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund (RDF), to cut indiscriminately – sequester style – from the state budget to pay for it. Like so many of the fights that are currently going on in Texas politics it has to do with an internal struggle inside the Texas GOP. And there just aren’t enough members of the GOP in The Lege that are willing to go on the record against the wing nuts in their party.
Water Bill Falters After Contentious House Debate
A major bill on the top of Gov. Rick Perry‘spriority list that would authorize spending billions of dollars on state water projects faltered in the Texas House on Monday night after a contentious debate over where to pull the money from.
“My understanding is it’s doorknob dead,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, said after debate on the measure, which was backed by Speaker Joe Straus, was halted over a legislative technicality.
In a statement, Perry said Texans “expect their elected officials to address the water needs of our state, and we will do just that.”
“This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain,” he said, “and I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Ritter’s bill, House Bill 11, would have taken $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund — a multibillion-dollar reserve of mostly oil and gas taxes — and spent it on water-supply projects, in an effort to help the state withstand future droughts.
The vote on RDF vs. General Revenue (GR) was a vote that the Hosue leadership never wanted to have. Of course their trying to blame the Democrats, and the Democrats are rightly standing up for what’s right.
But HB 11’s backers faced an uphill battle to get enough votes, because drawing from the Rainy Day Fund requires a higher bar — 100 votes rather than the usual 76 votes — to pass.
Democrats’ objections were grounded in the argument that if the Rainy Day Fund gets used for water, it should also be raided for other purposes like public education. Some far-right conservatives, meanwhile, worried about drawing at all from the Rainy Day Fund, which they say should be reserved for emergencies.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, ultimately avoided a vote on HB 11 by raising a point of order, a legislative term for a procedural problem with the bill. Ritter said the bill in its current form is now dead; Perry has previously threatened to call a special session if lawmakers cannot find a way to fund water projects.
There was never an actual vote on the contentious amendment that would have allowed the money to come from GR, instead of the RDF. And that’s likely what the GOP leadership in the House was trying to avoid when the accepted the point of order. The wing nuts in the Texas GOP will try to use any situation like this to try and gut government, that’s what they do. Until the “squishes” stand up to the crazies in the GOP this is the kind of government we are going to have in Texas.
But with a reputed 80 votes, and needing 100, it’s not just the Dems who stand in the way. (The statehouse is split 95 R and 55 D.) The TP doesn’t care much for the bill either, but that’s because they don’t want to spendanything.
House Bill 11 also faced challenges from the House’s tea party faction, which has been itching for a fight all session. To appease the brawlers, the House GOP caucus chair Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) presented what one lawmaker called a “nuclear bomb”: an amendment stipulating that if the bill didn’t get a vote of two-thirds of the House, then it would be funded out of general revenue by imposing a $2 billion across-the-board cut. In other words, Creighton would force lawmakers to choose between water and everything else in the state budget.
The proposal, said Turner, puts “water first and everything else is second. By definition your amendment has picked a winner and everyone else stands to lose.”
Creighton’s rejoinder was that everyone would suffer from not funding the water plan. “Whoever is impacted by small reductions in the budget will benefit for years from this move,” he said.
But before the amendment came to a vote, the point of order killed the bill.
The bill could get passed if the Republicans with half a functioning brain could reach Sly Turner’s common ground on funding education and transportation. But Ritter says it’s dead now, so I guess we should take him at his word.
It’s unclear how the House gets the water plan funded now. Any transfer from the Rainy Day Fund, as is preferred by Gov. Perry and other top Republicans, would require a two-thirds vote. The Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment last week pulling a total of $5.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, including $2 billion for water. However, Ritter said that legislation “has a snowball’s chance” in the House.
Ritter and the Democrats pointed to another bill sitting in committee, House Bill 19, which spreads $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to water and roads.
Without 100 votes, something will have to give to fund the state water plan.
It’s called compromise. It’s defined as Republicans giving up something — their apparent desire NOT to fully fund public schools — in order to get what they want. Which, though difficult for them to manage, beats the kind of intransigence they have demonstrated on other legislative items (such as Medicaid expansion).
State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, commenting after Turner’s point of order won out, voiced determination to see a water bill through. “If we don’t fix this, I think a lot of people’s political careers will be on the line,” he said.
Since Larson is the guy who advanced term limits legislation over the objections of the governor, hopefully it’s Rick Perry’s political career he’s referring to.
Oh well, he was going to have to call one for getting his bidness buddies their tax cut anyways, might as well have a real reason to call one.
As Eaton and Price reported it in the Statesman, “The rule violation sprang up during contentious debate on the measure, which had become a chip in a game over the larger priorities of the House. Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, back the plan to tap the rainy day fund for water projects, saying water infrastructure is crucial to maintain Texas’s economic competitiveness.
“The state water plan warns that unless Texas spends billions for water projects over the next half-century, water shortages and drought could cost a million jobs. Democrats, however, want to make sure public education is not shortchanged while water infrastructure is funded, and conservative, largely freshmen Republican lawmakers want to leave the rainy day fund untouched.”
So, as Chris Tomlinson pointed out in his report for AP, while “the error was pointed out by House Democrats who were frustrated that the Republican-controlled Legislature was ready to spend the Rainy Day Fund on water projects, but not on restoring funding cut from public education … conservative Republicans welcomed the measure’s failure because it saved them from having to make a politically difficult vote. Tea party members called the bill’s spending reckless and fiscally imprudent.”
Martinez-Fischer said that Democrats had been “negotiating in good faith for a common solution when all of a sudden HB 11 was on the calendar” and, as the day wore on and Democrats became aware of where things were head, “people started scrambling to file amendments. Everything you saw today happened in real time. There was no rehearsal the night before. Members were writing amendments on the House floor. This was a real-time exercise. It caught everyone by surprise.”
When other points of order failed, Sylvester Turner played his, which he said he was aware of because it had been used against him some years ago. Was that the Democrat’s ace in the hole all along? “No,” said Martinez-Fischer, “I think this one was the ace in the hole,” clutching an envelope in his hand. “I didn’t get to use it.”
In a nice surmise of the legislative process, Martinez-Fischer said, “You have amenders who amend, debaters who debate and you have rules experts who use the rules.”
He said yesterday’s rules play was necessary because, ‘we can’t negotiate with HB 11 pointed at our head like a loaded gun. Today we removed the loaded gun.”
I seldom find myself in agreement with the tea party, but they are dead right in their skepticism of debt. This is why you can make the argument that Rick Perry is not a true conservative. He won’t raise taxes, but he doesn’t mind going deep into debt–and retiring debt is about the most expensive thing government can do. His proposal to capitalize $41 billion in debt to build roads is rash.
All that needs to be said to that is malarkey. The so-called “conservatives” since St. Ronnie have been about nothing but debt. That is modern conservatism, starve the beast, run up deficits with tax cuts and then cut government. But the only thing more bizarre is what Burka thinks the cure should be. A “blue ribbon” panel of our state “conservative” leaders to raise taxes.
I would urge state leaders to put together a blue ribbon panel on the issue of how we should finance state government. The classic model of government finance is the “three-legged stool”: a combination of sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes. Trouble is, in Texas, one of those legs is missing, and I doubt that it will ever be “found.” What Texas does have that most other states lack is severance taxes on oil and gas. But relying on severance taxes is not a good long-term strategy because the price of oil is volatile. Back in 1986, oil fell below $10 a barrel. What I think Texas needs to do is protect the revenue stream of its most important tax, the sales tax. This can be achieved by raising the sales tax in small increments over time. The same could be done for the gasoline tax. The idea is not for the state to get a windfall. The idea is to ensure that the revenue stream is protected, that when the economy tanks, as it will eventually do, the state has the flexibility to raise the rate.
One thing that such a panel should tackle is tax exemptions. The biggest of these is the ag tax break. I certainly support ag tax breaks for individual landowners who make their living from the land. But the ag tax break should not be available to major corporations who get a break from running cattle on their land.
That’s about as likely to happen as Perry and the wing nuts accepting Medicaid expansion, as is.
Burka does a little better trashing Perry’s tax cut proposal. Debt and tax cuts are the GOP’s economic plan.
In fact, this is one of the worst. He wants to cut a tax that is underperforming. The state’s business margins tax was created in the middle of the previous decade to close the gap between the cost of a 33% cut in school property taxes, mandated by the Texas Supreme Court and enacted in 2003, and the amount required to sustain the Foundation School Program. As most readers are well aware, the margins tax never brought in the amount it was predicted to produce. As a result, with each succeeding biennium, the underperformance of the margins tax opened a recurring $2 billion structural deficit in the state budget, which is one reason the state’s budget, and particularly education funding, has been in trouble for most of the first decade of the 21st century. The structural deficit, which the LBB acknowledged in 2009, is a major reason for the chronic underfunding of education.
Yep, that’s the Texas GOP’s intentional plan to defund public education, which true conservatives have always hated.
I think Burka is honestly trying to find a way for everyone to just get along. But I think we’re way beyond that. The only way we can get back to rational politics again in this state is to start electing people that believe in things like public education again.
These two videos do a pretty good job of laying out the idiocy of Perry and the wing nuts stance against expanding Medicaid in Texas. The first video sets up the issue and also replay’s Perry’s “Oops” moment – it’s worth watching just for that.
The second video includes Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and has a great explanation of how bad it will be for Texas if Medicaid isn’t expanded. Castro does think Texas will eventually find a way to expand Medicaid, whether under this governor or the next governor. Ezra Klein does a great job of explaining how “disproportionate share” payments will negatively effect Texas. And Ryan Grim does a good job of explaining the ideological box that Perry and the wing nuts have put themselves in.
Kuff has this post on a purported Medicaid reform plan by Sen. Tommy Williams. The sad part is that like his wing nut leader Perry, Williams is incapable of saying he’ll have anything to do with Medicaid.
Of course, the federal government is paying for it, assuming that Williams’ Republican colleagues in Washington don’t succeed in figuring out some way to cripple it. One must admit there is some risk to that, however perverse the whole thing is. Be that as it may, I’d like to know how much revenue Williams thinks he can “scrape” this way, and how many people it would help. I’m going to step out on a limb and guess that the number is smaller than the number of people who would be eligible for expanded Medicaid. More importantly, why this for a revenue source and not the billions of dollars of federal money available? Back to the Trib for that:
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, confirmed Wednesday that he will incorporate into his own Medicaid reform bill a proposal by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, to use premium tax revenue to subsidize private health policies for the uninsured.
“It fits very well with Texas’ attempt to find a unique solution that would be sustainable,” Zerwas said. He said the measure would allow Texas to embrace some parts of federal health reform “earlier versus later,” and would “hopefully bring insurance policies to these people that otherwise wouldn’t have them.”
But the two lawmakers diverge on a key point — whether or not to draw down billions of federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid-eligible population under the Affordable Care Act.
Medicaid expansion is “completely off the table — what I’m interested in is a reform program,” Williams said Wednesday morning.
Zerwas said he authored House Bill 3791 to craft a “Texas solution” to Medicaid reform that would allow the state to draw down federal Medicaid expansion financing while implementing cost containment reforms. So far, Zerwas has suggested those reforms include co-payments and wellness incentives, but the details of his plan remain thin.
Still not clear what, other than straight up antipathy to Medicaid and the ACA, is driving Williams’ refusal to draw down federal funds. The sad thing is that even this baby step, two years out, would be a big improvement over anything the Republicans have done to health care in Texas. It’s ridiculously limited and needlessly complicated, which gives you some idea of just how bad the status quo is, but it’s still a tiny nudge forward. I just hope Rep. Zerwas’ perspective wins out in the end.
The only silver lining we can hope for is that the Texas GOP’s immoral stance on health care will make them vulnerable in Texas much sooner. Now that would be the miracle we need.
This morning, volunteers with Progress Texas and the Texas Organizing Project rallied outside Governor Perry’s office demanding he expand Medicaid in Texas to cover hard working Texans. Perry hosted a 10 minute long “roundtable” discussion – where no members of the public were invited – and a joint press conference on Medicaid expansion with Senators John Cornyn & Ted Cruz, along with other Texas Tea Party members. Texans came from across the state to make it known that we need health care, and we need it now - check out our Facebook photos from the rally.
Republicans including U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and members of a conservative think tank gathered first, reaffirming their opposition to expanding Medicaid, a key tenet of “Obamacare” that is widely supported by Democrats. The expansion — and, in particular, the flexibility the federal government has shown some Republican-led states in implementing it — has in recent months drawn the support of some fiscal conservatives reluctant to pass up billions of federal dollars and the opportunity to curb Texas’ ranks of the uninsured.
The Republican event was followed by a Democratic one led by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio; his brother, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro; U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; and legislative Democrats. They demanded that state leaders find a way to draw down the federal money and lift Texas’ stigma as having the highest uninsured population of any state.
“Even though many states with staunch Republican governors have said expanding Medicaid is the smart thing to do, the governor has stubbornly refused to do so,” Joaquin Castro said.
Julián Castro said: “As elected officials, the public hires us not to do the ideological thing but to do the smart thing. People from across the political spectrum … have suggested that Texas should do the right thing and accept the expansion of Medicaid.”
“This is federal money that is going to be spent whether we opt into the program or not,” he said. “In other words, if we don’t reclaim our federal dollars that Texas taxpayers are paying, they’re going to go to other states.”
There is nothing that can be said to fight against the ideological bias of Perry and the wing nuts. They will not compromise on anything Obama related. The Democrats in Texas, the Obama administration, and many traditional GOP supporters are willing to work on a deal. But Perry and the wing nuts, who have locked themselves into an ideological box, are unwilling to compromise on this, the moral choice of our day.
As McBlogger points out transportation is getting short shrift this session. Not only is it stuck behind education and Medicaid as an issue but also water. Not that any of those are not important, but what is shows is that our GOP state elected leaders have been neglecting several really important issues for far too long.
But the other thing McBlogger points out is that now that they’ve created a bad situation, some of the supposed “fixes” are only likely to make things worse, Transportation… pissing into the wind.
While there’s so much going on with regard to education funding and Medicaid, transportation is receiving very little attention from the outside.
All three are extremely important… all three effect the economy is very real ways and those effects, for good or ill, will be felt now and in the decades to come. That being said, someone has to say something about transportation and two bills that’ll have pretty deleterious effects need to be defeated.
1) HB 3391 – This bill gives TXDOT and the RMA’s the ability to enter into PPPs from now until 2017. The impact of this could be massive as it would shift ever increasing numbers of roads to the same old failed PPP model. We have PPP roads in this state that have been open for 7 years that are still not producing a profit and may never. This is risky finance that leaves Texas taxpayers exposed to investment banks which, let’s be honest, don’t have a stellar track record at controlling risk. If you’d like to take action against this, please email the entire transportation committee here.
2) SB 1110 – This rather odious piece of legislation allows local property taxes to be diverted to toll road schemes. As if Texas property taxes aren’t already too high, this bit of responsibility dodging on the part of the Lege would put the burden on local officials and local taxpayers for toll roads that fail to live up to the irrational revenue expectations set for them. Democrats who voted for this bill include our own Senator Watson who, inexplicably, continues his practice of just voting for anything that will, ostensibly, get roads built regardless of the cost to his constituents.
These two pieces of legislation aim to achieve a goal of providing for roads and improvements the state desperately needs. However, they do so in a way that will cost Texas taxpayers far too much and leave them exposed to risk that is simply too much to bear. While TURF and others are fighting desperately to stop the diversions of transportation taxes, it’s become increasingly obvious that those diversions can’t be stopped because they provide funding to a number of needed programs.
McBlogger goes on to point out that while it’s not perfect there is a solution.
So, what’s the solution? Easy… Sen. Eltife’s bill to index the gas tax. While I’m not thrilled with the desire to rapidly pay off the bonds we’ve sold (since paying off that money reduces that which is available to build and grow the economy which would, in turn, increase tax revenue and allow the bonds to be paid off sooner anyway), if that’s the compromise that has to be made to get this done, then that’s the damn compromise.
What all of this makes clear is that other then Sen. Eltife the GOP is not really interested in fixing our transportation funding issue. For all the talk of leadership and courage when it comes to taxes, almost all of the GOP doesn’t have any. They would rather throw bad ideas at the wall to see what’ll stick. They’re looking for politically safe positions that are won’t do near enough to fix our transportation funding problem.
Two key Republicans legislators — both of them doctors — say they’re sticking with Gov. Rick Perry’s position that Texas will reject the Medicaid expansion provision of federal health reform, despite a rising tide of Republican governors who are embracing it.
During a Texas Tribune Triblive conversation on Wednesday, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, and Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, both spoke against expanding Medicaid, which they called a “broken system.” But they left the door open to working with the Obama administration if it provides more flexibility to let Texas operate the program as it sees fit.
There are many falsehoods that the wing nuts spout about Medicaid. They believe their oft spouted mythology government is reality, but it’s not. The fact is Medicaid is not broken, and is much, much more efficient then private insurance. Here’s one of the Ten Myths About Medicaid.
* Myth 9—The Medicaid program is inefficient.
* FACT: Medicaid compares favorably to other parts of the American health system when measuring administrative efficiency and per enrollee costs.
Compared to private health programs, Medicaid has lower administrative costs per claims paid when compared to private sector plans. Medicaid per capita growth has been consistently about half the rate of growth in private insurance premiums. Both of these factors show that despite program growth, Medicaid is an efficient program.
Steven Brill has written a must-read article for this week’s Time magazine about health care costs and why we really do have to be concerned about them. Following on that, he made an appearance on the round table segment of This Week to discuss those costs and why he’s sounding the alarm.
Anyone who has spent even a day in the hospital knows what the problem is. When one over-the-counter pain reliever administered in the hospital costs as much as an entire bottle at the pharmacy, there’s a very, very big problem.
Brill correctly points out that Medicare is an efficient program that Congress has managed to hog-tie into some ridiculous costly measures:
And it actually that bears on the conversation we’re having, because a chunk of that money is paid by Medicare. Medicare is I point out in the article is very efficient at most things. It buys health care really efficiently, which is a great irony, because it’s supposed to be the big government of bureaucracy.
Where Medicare is not efficient is where Congress, because of lobbyists have handcuffed Medicare. Medicare can’t negotiate what it pays for any kind of drugs. It can’t negotiate what it pays for wheelchairs, diabetes testing equipment. And if Congress took those handcuffs off of Medicare, you could get about half of the spending cuts that we’re sitting around here talking about.
Yes, this. Of course, that assumes anyone in Congress is brave enough to stand up to the mighty PhRMA lobby, which seems to have as deep a lock on Washington as the gun lobby. Brill also makes the compelling argument for lowering the Medicare eligibility age, which I have argued over and over again here at C&L. The single biggest cost-saver for Medicare would be to drop the eligibility age, let people buy in until they actually reach retirement age, and then they would drop to the levels under the Social Security law.
The problem with Medicaid for Perry and the wing nuts,like Schwertner and Zerwas, is that it’s a government run, not for profit system, that works well. And that’s an affront to everything they believe. They would much rather the federal government give them a chunk of money they could then give the the for profit system, which funds their campaigns. But we all know how that would turn out.
Personally I find the whole government and business comparisons to be a bunch of crap. Because there should be no profit motive involved in government, the motive should be to provide great service for the taxpayers. Government should not be run like a business and business should not be run like a government. They’re different for a reason.
Be that as it may, Ross Ramsey makes some solid points on how Perry and the wing nuts use the business analogy only when it suits them, and throws it aside for ideological reasons when it doesn’t. Medicaid Expansion Confounds Conservatives.
Both Perry and Dewhurst can claim to know how the business world works, whether their recent records support it or not. But look at the capper: They and others are talking seriously about walking away from a gargantuan federal freebie.
The federal government is offering to pay all of the costs of expanding the Medicaid program to some of the state’s uninsured population for three years, then to pay 90 percent of the costs for several years after that. Texas could, according to a report commissioned by Texas Impact, an interfaith public policy group, spend $15 billion over the next 10 years and pull down $100 billion in federal funds as a result.
Here’s the business question: Why leave that kind of money on the table, especially if it’s going to be spent elsewhere if Texas opts out?
The argument for expansion is that it would take care of a lot of people for some period of time — even if it doesn’t take care of them forever. The choice is between insuring a crowd of people for a few or many years, or not insuring them at all. Between providing their health care in expensive and inefficient emergency rooms, or taking care of them by expanding Medicaid.
It’s not just a good-government take-care-of-those-less-fortunate thing, either. Medicaid has enough flaws to feed a dozen think tanks. But by expanding Medicaid, the state would also bring in billions of dollars to pay for health care for people who aren’t insured now, providing relief to local taxpayers who wouldn’t be on the hook for nearly as much uncompensated care, turbocharging the state’s medical economy, and bringing federal tax dollars paid by Texans back into the state.
If you don’t do that last bit, by the way, the money would otherwise go to places like California, Massachusetts and New York. Where’s the business sense in that? And where, because that’s a transfer of wealth in some measure from red to blue states, is the political sense?
It might be true that a Medicaid expansion will work only for a few years in Texas and other states; they can quit if that time comes. For many officeholders, it makes political sense to opt out. But if they were running state government like a business, without the political undertow, the conversation would already be over.
There are a few things Ramsey says that I don’t agree with. Like “..politicians understand how businesses operate”, and “Medicaid has enough flaws to feed a dozen think tanks”. But his general overall point that for the good of the state, Perry and the wing nuts should be able to set aside ideology and do what’s right, and hide behind an “it’s good for business” excuse, to do what’s right. That I can agree with. If that’s what it takes for the GOP in Texas to do the right and moral thing the so be it.
[UPDATE]: Perry is digging in, Gov. Rick Perry heckled in DC as he rules out Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Rick Perry faced hecklers this morning in Washington as he made clear today that despite mounting pressure, he won’t expand Medicaid, even though that could cut the number of uninsured Texans by as much as 1 million.
“We are not going to be expanding Medicaid in Texas,” he told the Texas State Society over the shouts of protesters filtering through the window of the Republican-run Capitol Hill Club, arguing that doing so would be too costly.
On the sidewalk, roughly 30 people shouted “Rick, Rick, You make me sick!” and “You will never be president.”
Inside, four people who paid $30 for a breakfast of scrambled eggs and chicken fried steak blended in with more than 100 members and guests of the Texas group, popping up to interrupt Perry at regular intervals.
“Do you bequeath our next generation of leaders death and illness? Healthcare is a human right. Healthcare is a human right, Gov. Perry. Do what is right for Texans,” one woman shouted at the governor before a Perry aide escorted her out.
“Two million people in your state do not have healthcare because you are refusing to have Medicaid expanded,” another heckler shouted later.
[UPDATE II]: Michael Lind at Salon has a great article on why Perry and the wing nuts don’t want to expand Medicaid, because they’re cheap labor conservatives. Southern poverty pimps:
Finally, there is the welfare state. Universal, portable social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare increase the bargaining power of workers, by reducing the penalty for quitting a job because of poor wages or poor treatment. If they quit, they don’t endanger their healthcare access or their retirement security. Workers with adequate social insurance are more likely — to use a time-honored Southern phrase — to be “uppity.”
Apart from a high federal minimum wage, nothing could be a greater threat to the Southern cheap-labor economic strategy than universal, standardized federal social insurance. In order to maximize the dependence of Southern workers on Southern employers in the great low-wage labor pool of the former Confederacy, it would be best to have no welfare at all, only local charity (funded and controlled, naturally, by the local wealthy families).
But if there must be a modern welfare system, then the Southern oligarchy prefers a system that allows state governments, rather than Washington, D.C., to control eligibility and benefit levels. By controlling eligibility, Southern state governments can minimize the amount of the local workforce that has access to good social insurance, reducing the power of Southern workers to be “uppity.” At the same time, giving Southern states the option to have lower benefit levels provides the neo-Confederates with yet another bargaining chip, along with low wages and low taxes, that can be used by Southern state governments to lure business from more generous states or nations.
It is all a system, you see. Southern conservative policies toward immigration, labor unions, the minimum wage and social insurance don’t reflect supposed conservative or libertarian ideologies or values, even if conservative or libertarian intellectuals are paid to dream up after-the-fact rationalizations. These policies are reinforcing components of a well-thought-out economic grand strategy to permit the South, as a nation-within-a-nation in the U.S., to pimp its cheap, dependent labor for the benefit of local and foreign (non-Southern) corporations and investors.