Calling Texas “the mecca of innovation on transportation infrastructure,” Gov. Rick Perry touted the state’s approach to expanding roads without raising taxes in Tuesday morning remarks to the toll road industry.
Perry was the keynote speaker at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) annual conference, held this year in Austin.
“Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives,” Perry said to more than 400 conference attendees, most of whom were from outside of Texas. “What you do in your communities, and in transportation infrastructure, is how we will really turn this economy around in this country.”
In his speech, Perry touted his work in transportation during his 13-year tenure as governor, particularly his backing of a statewide proliferation of toll roads and his use of other financing tools to avoid raising taxes.
“We realized early on that pay-as-you-go wasn’t going to help us meet all of the requirements that we had as a state,” Perry said. “So we explored new ways of financing, including toll roads, but also ways in which we structure our budget and take advantage of historically low interest rates, all to ensure that money flows to these road construction projects and to maintenance.”
Spoken like someone who’s been chauffeured around Austin for the last 13 years.
He is right about one thing. The way we used to fund roads in Texas was chucked and replaced with a helter-skelter system of toll roads and cronyism. That most Texans see them as a tax increase anyway.
It’s pretty easy to see now that if it wasn’t for the neglect of the last 20 years, just raising the gas tax and indexing it with inflation, would have been the best solution.
The upcoming proposition is a
It’s understandable that no one wants to pay more taxes. But under the old system at least the tax money went to build roads. Now the money is diverted to pay for budget shortfalls, or more likely goes to corporate cronies of Texas politicians like Perry, to build the toll roads that go bankrupt and need a taxpayer bailout anyway. I don’t know, maybe some people think that’s a better system?
Whichever you prefer it’s pretty obvious to most every Texan that Perry’s transportation legacy is not what he thinks it is. We’re all still stuck in traffic over the ideological neglect we’ve been subjected to over the last 13 years.
Frustration with the mounting debt — a significant portion of Texas’ total debt — boiled over in a Texas Senate committee hearing Tuesday morning to pave a way forward.
“We have basically run this state with debt on a credit card, and now we’ve maxed out the credit card,” said state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler). “All this talk of no new revenue the last ten years, and what have we done? We’ve mortgaged the future of this state. When you sell bonds it’s a tax on a future generation because we didn’t have the courage to do the right thing.”
“Now we’re in a mess because we’ve maxed out the credit card, and we’re going to sit here another six months talking about the need and never figure out a way to pay for it,” Eltife continued. “We’ve got to put this state back on a pay-as-you-go plan for all of state government. That’s a true balanced budget, not using debt every session to balance our books.”
And Leticia Van de Putte reminds us about the diversions.
Many lawmakers have also have voiced frustration over money collected from dedicated fees which has gone unspent. After sitting in on Tuesday morning’s hearing, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) told KVUE the practice must stop. “I think what Texans ought to be absolutely appalled at is the number of dedicated fees and taxes that are supposed to go to highways and to building of roads, when in fact they’re being diverted to certify the budget.”
“..our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” - Paul Weyrich, “father” of the right-wing movement and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation
If you were not paying attention to state news over the holiday weekend, (And who could blame you?), you may have missed the DMN story on Texas AG Greg Abbott’s years-long scheme to sabotage minority voter registration efforts. It’s the latest chapter in the Texas GOP’s goal to keep the voting populace low, Abbott’s Houston raid didn’t end with arrests, but shut down voter drive.
The most egregious part of this is that they never even prove anything illegal happened. It looks like just plain intimidation by the AG’s office.
The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.
In the words of George W. Bush, “Mission accomplished”. The funniest part, in a sad way, way this.
The News on June 10 filed a public records request with the attorney general for the case file. Abbott’s office, which is in charge of enforcing the state’s open records law, asked itself for a ruling on whether those records must be released. In an Aug. 28 letter, the attorney general’s office ruled that it may withhold the records under state law.
Time after time, Abbott has demonstrated that the rules apply one way for him, and another way for the rest of us.
He championed tort reform, drastically limiting the amount someone can recover in a personal injury trial after he, himself, recovered a very large settlement in a personal injury trial. Remind yourself of the details here.
He drilled his own well to water his lawn while the city and county he lives in suffered from a drought that continues to this day. Soak up the full story here.
Greg Abbott wants to be governor so he can take care of Greg Abbott, as well as a few campaign contributors of his who want to continue running their predatory lending businesses without any oversight, building their dangerous chemical storage facilities next to nursing homes and residential neighborhoods without disclosing what, exactly, is being stored, and pillaging our natural resources without regard for the safety of our citizens or water supply.
Dangerous, arrogant, and a craven hypocrite. Ladies and gentlemen, what are you doing to make sure this man does not become governor?
This is what happens when one party rules. Again, nothing will change until they’re made to pay on election day. It’s blatantly obvious what they’re doing. They’re plan is to continue making sure they win the election before the ballots are ever cast.
With news like this it’s no wonder many of the GOP statewide candidates are not agreeing to debate their Democratic opponents.
Houston contends his opponent hasn’t made a public appearance in months, ever since Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade – a service for which he pocketed up to a 30 percent in commission – without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.
Wendy Davis issued the following statement in response to the ruling by Judge John Dietz finding school funding inadequate:
“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”
In 2011, Senator Davis led the fight against the $5.4 billion in education cuts, filibustering a budget that shortchanged Texas children. In contrast, Greg Abbott has been fighting more than 600 Texas school districts in court, defending the public education cuts.
Statement from Leticia Van de Putte:
Today, State District Judge John Dietz ruled that Texas’ system of funding neighborhood schools is unconstitutional.
Senator Leticia Van de Putte, Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, issued the following statement:
“Today’s decision tells us what every Texas parent already knows: Dan Patrick’s education cuts are bad for Texas students. Texas’ system of funding neighborhood schools is broken. Opportunity in Texas should not be restricted by where you live and the irresponsible whims of a politician more focused on political scorecards than our student’s report cards.
“Every Texan knows that investment in the education of our children and Texas’ workforce is critical to a smart economy. Now is the time to lead, not to wait for another court to tell us to do our job. As Lt. Governor, I’ll put Texas first and lead the Senate to do right by our children – no excuses.”
The economy in Texas has never been miraculous. Bleeding the people dry while stockpiling cash is no miracle.
There are two ways for governments to pay for things – taxes or debt. Today we learn from the Texas Tribune that in recent years local governments have been using one much more than the other. Local Debt Climbs as Texas Cities Deal With Growth. It starts by highlighting what happened in Jarrell, here in Williamson County.
Eight years ago, officials with the city of Jarrell decided their small community north of Austin needed a new wastewater system. They expected an influx of new residents and businesses to support some debt to pay for the project.
“That was about the time the market crashed,” City Manager Mel Yantis said. “Building basically rolled to a stop.”
As of 2013, Jarrell’s $10.3 million debt works out to $9,928 for each of the community’s 1,035 residents. It is one of the highest per-capita debt loads among Texas cities, which mostly have debt loads of less than $1,000 per resident.
In recent years, nearly all of Jarrell’s property taxes — 39 out of 44 cents per $100 of assessed value — have gone to paying off debt, Yantis said. That’s meant holding off on other projects, like expanding the police force.
Yantis expects the payments to drop significantly around 2021. Residents will notice the difference pretty quickly.
“They may see large increase in services without any increase in tax rate,” Yantis said. “It’ll be a good day for Jarrell whenever that debt’s paid down.”
This happened all over Texas before the 2008 collapse, where exponential growth was expected to continue unabated. Of course it didn’t and the local governments were left holding the bag.
Jarrell’s story is an extreme example of the way hundreds of Texas communities are relying more on borrowing to handle basic public services. Over the last decade, local government debt has grown around the country, but Texas, with an economic performance in recent years that has outpaced the rest of the country, is a special case. Of the 10 largest states, Texas has the second-highest local debt per capita as cities and school districts have gone on a borrowing spree to maintain or expand amenities while not raising taxes.
When communities are short on cash, local officials can choose to sell bonds to private investors, promising to pay it back later with interest. There are two main types of local debt issued in Texas: taxpayer-supported debt, which is backed by local property taxes, and revenue-supported debt, which is typically used to finance infrastructure projects and paid back through sales taxes or user fees. While both types of debt have grown in Texas in recent years, critics have expressed more concern over taxpayer-supported debt, which is usually voter-approved and can be tougher to pay off if projections for economic performance or population growth don’t pan out.
Between local cities, school districts and counties, more than half of all Texans live in areas where the bill for taxpayer-supported debt, including expected interest, totals more than $1 billion, according to state data analyzed by The Texas Tribune. In parts of the state’s two most populous counties — Harris and Dallas — the total cost of local debt tops $5 billion.
We have to remember that for the last several years Texas has been running a surplus and the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund, has been filling up with money. And that money, which is supposed to be used in time of economic turmoil, is just sitting there, while local communities suffer.
Since the GOP took over control of our state government they’re more then willing to stockpile taxpayer money and let poor, working and middle class Texans continue to struggle. They tout the monthly tax numbers while so many struggle to get by. They’ve made mistake after mistake trying to use the “private sector” instead of government. (More mistakes here and here). In almost every case it’s wound up costing taxpayers more int the long run.
The GOP has made a living telling everyone how bad the government is as opposed to business. You know, everything was supposed to be so much better if we just ran government like a business. Not so much.
The truth is – despite the Texas Tribune series – there is not, and never was, anything miraculous about what happened in Texas. The GOP has been neglecting the needs of the people of Texas while doing everything they can to make things easy for, and hand taxpayer money to corporations and big business. Neglect and greed.
When Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano was accused of protecting a neurosurgeon whose patients died or were maimed, it got some outside help from Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Abbott has intervened in three federal cases on the hospital’s side. He says he’s defending state law as a matter of principle. But he’s also siding with one of his biggest campaign contributors.
In March, Abbott — the Republican nominee for governor — filed motions to intervene in federal court against former patients who sued the doctor claiming botched spinal surgeries. The patients contend that the 2003 Texas law sharply limiting medical malpractice suits is unconstitutional.
Aides say Abbott is trying to defend an important state reform, not shield Baylor from liability. But his action would make it more difficult for the patients to win their cases.
Baylor Regional is part of the Baylor Scott & White Health hospital system. The chairman of the system’s board of trustees is Drayton McLane, a Temple transportation executive and Republican political contributor. McLane has donated to Abbott before, but never in the large sums of the last year amid the hospital’s mounting legal problems.
Abbott received $100,000 from McLane in June 2013 and another $250,000 in January. The donations coincide with Abbott stepping up his fundraising as his campaign for governor developed. But before these contributions, McLane’s biggest donation to Abbott was $25,000, according to state records.
The $100,000 donation came a day after the Texas Medical Board suspended the license of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, who left Baylor Plano in 2012 after a series of problem surgeries. The second donation was reported a week after the second of several medical malpractice lawsuits was filed against the doctor and hospital.
It’s a pattern that Abbott’s opponent, Democrat Wendy Davis, has been highlighting for quite some time. From a Davis email earlier this month.
Greg Abbott Works for Insiders And Texans Get Hurt in the Process
What We Know (So Far) About How Greg Abbott’s Insider Dealings Harm Texas Families:
Farmers Insurance: Abbott Collected Nearly $130,000 in Campaign Contributions from Farmers Insurance; Negotiated a “Sweetheart Deal” for the Company that Hurt Texas Homeowners
Chemical Disclosure: Abbott Accepted More Than $100k From Chemical Interests and Ruled That Explosive Chemical Locations Could Be Kept Secret, Putting Texas Parents & Children in Danger
Bond & Contract Deals: Abbott Gave $3 Million in Taxpayer Contracts to $200k+ Donor, Approved $20 Billion in Bond Deals To Benefit Six Financial Contributors Instead of Help Hardworking Texas Families
Payday Lenders: Abbott Collected Nearly $300,000 from Payday Lenders While Letting Them Prey On Hardworking Families With Unlimited Rates and Fees
Cancer Research: Abbott Took Half a Million Dollars From His Donors And Let Them Take $42 Million in Taxpayer Money Intended for Cancer Research
Everyone of those is Abbott ruling in the interest of corporations and his big money donors and against the best interest of the people of Texas. But it’s on just Greg Abbott. The Texas GOP, since taking complete control of state government, has reconfigured our government so that it favors the powerful over the people. This is how they believe government, what little of it they think there should be, should operate. When they show you who they are believe them.
Greg Abbott only has Rick Perry to thank for the predicament he’s in over his confusing statements regarding where he stands on the release of information about hazardous chemicals. Getting rid of regulations, which protect the public, and as far as the GOP is concerned hurt “bidness”, are a pillar of Perry’s policies.
In his stump speech Perry would click off what he said were the four major reasons his state had come to lead the nation in job creation—without ever forgetting a one of them. They were, he said, low taxes, low regulation, tort reform, and “don’t spend all the money.” [Emphasis added]
Abbott’s answers to the question of what Texans should do if they want to know if these chemicals are near where they live, their children go to school, or the nursing home of their aging parent, have been dismissive at best. Via Peggy Fikac, Abbott smacks into a chemical hazard.
When the DSHS ruling drew attention, Abbott first said the private facilities themselves must release the information to the public, even though the state couldn’t.
He said Texans could find the locations as they “drive around,” prompting a Dallas TV station to take him up on the idea by driving to companies and asking to see their chemical lists. It worked about as well as you’d think, which is to say, not at all.
My Austin bureau colleague, the Houston Chronicle’s Lauren McGaughy, sought the information from companies and local emergency response agencies through open records requests, with mixed results. Several gave no data or didn’t respond, some were sparing and others gave complete information. Abbott ultimately acknowledged to the Associated Press the data might be harder to get than he thought.
Last week, Abbott wrote an opinion piece that touted a Texas Department of Insurance website as one place to get general information about ammonium nitrate. But the website only discloses whether ammonium nitrate is in a ZIP code. Not how much, not where. A consumer watchdog called that useless. Abbott also said he’d propose the Legislature allow access to the information at local fire stations.
Abbott’s ignorance of what his own office had ruled on this issue, then telling folks to “drive around”, shows his indifference for what most Texans are dealing with. His main concern are ideological.
But Abbott’s efforts to contain the chemical controversy contrasts to Davis’ straightforward message. She says people deserve to know about the dangerous chemicals in their neighborhoods. She promises to make disclosure a priority.
No one is suggesting this is enough to vault her ahead of Abbott, but Rice University political scientist Mark Jones pointed out last week the contrast fits her effort to paint him as an insider who isn’t looking out for average Texans.
The West explosion highlighted weaknesses in Texas’ oversight of hazardous chemicals, said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson, so this issue “goes right to the heart of the Texas model” under GOP leaders.
Abbott’s initial answer about how people could find out about chemicals’ location “was dismissive of the legitimate interest that people have in knowing whether their families are safe,” Jillson said. “He’s been unable to formulate a better answer because to do so would fly in the face of his general ideological and political commitments – small government, low taxes, deregulation.”
If he gives in to what the people want he will start to alienate the tea party base of the Texas GOP. So this is not just an Abbott issue, it’s an issue with the entire GOP in Texas. Which is why more Democrats in Texas need to start asking questions of all their GOP opponents. Like Susan Criss is doing, Dust-up over Abbott chemical ruling bleeds into state House race.
The political scuffle over Greg Abbott’s ruling to keep chemical facility information secret is starting to bleed into local races, as the Democrat aiming to replace state Rep. Craig Eiland seeks to tie her Republican opponent to the increasingly heated debate.
“Texas families have a right to know about potentially dangerous chemicals that could harm their families,” said Susan Criss, a Democratic district judge running for Eiland’s seat. “Does Wayne Faircloth feel the same way?”
Calls to Faircloth’s wife, Susan, also his treasurer, were not immediately returned Friday.
Make them all, from Dan Patrick on down, answer whither they’re with Abbott on this issue or not?
There’s more to add to yesterday’s post, GOP In Texas Is Corporate-Owned, about Greg Abbott’s indifference to the lives of Texans. Texans must understand that it’s the way of elected Republicans in Texas to put aside the concerns of Texans because of the burden that would be on corporations.
The explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas last year took much more than fifteen lives. At least 262 people were injured; twenty percent of those were brain injuries. Homes and schools were destroyed. But judging from the response of some state lawmakers charged with stopping it from happening again, preventable disasters like the one in West are just something Texans are going to have to live with from time to time.
There’s been no new regulations for fertilizer plants since the disaster until this month, but there’s been a consensus for some time about how to prevent another tragedy like the one in West: require fertilizer plants to store ammonium nitrate in non-combustible facilities or to use sprinklers; conduct inspections of facilities; and train first responders so they know how to deal with fires that may break out at sites with ammonium nitrate.
A draft bill to do just that was introduced Tuesday by state Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chair of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. But Republicans on his committee like Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) made clear at a hearing yesterday that they’re likely going to fight new regulations proposed to prevent another West. Flynn said new rules could put “Mom and Pop” fertilizer companies out of business, and he worries that any new rules for volunteer fire departments could strain budgets.
To get an idea of how much resistance the proposed rules could face from Republicans, take a look at one of the exchanges between Flynn and Pickett. Pickett proposed training volunteer fire departments to deal with fires at ammonium nitrate facilities. Currently, they get two days of training free, but another two days of hands-on training that is needed isn’t covered by the state. Over 70 percent of the firefighters in Texas are voluntary, and don’t have the authority to inspect facilities with ammonium nitrate. Pickett wants to change that, but Flynn and other rural Republicans weren’t convinced.
“When you start requiring basic gear that a municipality has to a local Volunteer Fire Department, you’re going to put them out of business,” Flynn said. “In a rural area, I’d rather have some people that are willing to come out and … ”
“Spit on it?” Pickett interrupted.
“Well, if that’s what what they have to do,” Flynn replied. “I don’t want to be that naïve.”
“But there’s nothing in here that says they have to buy a new fire truck!” Pickett said. “We’re talking about training.”
It went on like this for some time. Pickett proposing something, with Republican lawmakers from rural areas pushing back. Pickett noted that there haven’t really been any changes at facilities storing ammonium nitrate in combustible buildings or without sprinkler systems. He said they were waiting on the legislature to see what they need to do. “Very few have done anything on their own to make it safe for their employees” and surrounding communities, Pickett said.
I know I’ve said this plenty of times but, how can anyone expect a party that thinks government is the problem to use government to fix problems? The GOP is incapable of doing anything, that would in any way, be an inconvenience to “bidness” that would make chemical storage safer for the people of Texas. This issue shows just how “owned” the GOP is by corporations and business. Kuff has a great wrap up of all that’s happening right now on this issue, Why would you want to regulate that?
Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.
The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.
Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.
The West accident focused public attention on the storage of potentially dangerous chemicals across Texas and regulatory gaps in prevention, data-gathering, enforcement and disclosure to prevent explosions in the future. In addition to the 15 deaths, scores of people were injured, and homes and businesses were leveled.
The issue has re-emerged for Abbott in his run for governor. The Republican nominee recently declared that records on what chemicals the facilities stored could remain hidden, citing state laws meant to deter potential terrorist threats.
The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, has charged Abbott with protecting campaign donors. On Tuesday, Abbott struggled to explain how Texans might learn of dangerous chemicals in their midst.
“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters at an event in Austin. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do and they can tell you, ‘Well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals.’ And if they do, they tell which ones they have.”[Emphasis added]
After the West disaster, The Dallas Morning News identified 74 facilities in Texas as having at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate or ammonium-related material, including a Koch subsidiary, the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant in Sweetwater. The subsidiary now makes a nitrogen fertilizer, not the same product as the one that exploded in West.
Industrialists Charles and David Koch have created sprawling political and fund-raising networks that bankroll Republican candidates and business-friendly causes. Their groups are poised to spend millions of dollars to help Republicans win the Senate this fall, and the brothers, who are largely quiet about their political activities, have emerged as the Democrats’ biggest-spending political bogeymen. Opponents warn the Kochs are trying to undo health and safety regulations to benefit their conservative agenda.
What Abbott is saying is that in addition to everything else hard working Texans are already doing – working, taking care of their family, going to school, paying the bills – now they have to do another job, drive around, and get the chemical corporations to disclose information the government already has. Here’s what Wendy Davis’ campaign had to say about this.
A Davis aide rebuked Abbott for the remarks.
“The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door to door in order to find out if their child’s school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives,” said spokesman Zac Petkanas. “Parents have a right to know whether their kids are playing hopscotch next door to the type of facility that exploded in West.”
As the US Supreme Court decisions reinforced this week, we now have a government that’s owned and run for corporations. And a politician like Abbott better do what he’s told if he wants the checks to keep rolling in.
Our state government in Texas has been shirking it’s responsibility since the Texas GOP seized control of all branches of government. They’ve neglected funding some of the most vital areas, public and higher education, infrastructure (roads, bridges, water), and health care just to name a few. Because of the GOP’s neglect, the money that could have been used to pay for those needs, have instead been hoarded and instead created surpluses. And now the GOP wanst to give that money to their wealthy corporate and business donors.
Leading state Republicans and some of their most vocal backers have turned up the volume in demanding tax cuts, as lawmakers anticipate a surplus about seven months before they return to Austin.
Sen. Dan Patrick, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, has urged cuts in property and business taxes.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican hopeful for governor, has said small businesses need relief from what he calls a very unfair state franchise tax. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates less state spending, wants a two-year, half-penny reduction in the state’s 6.25-cent sales tax.
However, while Texas’ economy shows continued strength, fiscal experts say there is no chance the state will be so flush that lawmakers can slash school property taxes and make more progress toward adequately funding roads and water reservoirs.
Texas and its local governments rely so heavily on property and sales taxes that it’s hard to hammer a noticeable dent in them, experts said. So unless you own a business, you’re unlikely to feel any tax relief from the Legislature, the experts say.[Emphasis added]
The point that everyone needs to understand is that there is more than enough money in Texas to pay for the needs of Texans. There is not the political will, on either side, to pursue it with the vigor needed. Which is why, at least in the near future, the surplus of neglect – political as well as fiscal – will continue.
This should not surprise anyone. The central goal of the modern day Republican Party/tea party is to get elected and destroy the government from the inside. They want to make sure that the people no longer feel they can turn to their government for help or any sort of constructive solution.
The private consortium behind the project owes more than $1 billion and lacks the funding to pay off an upcoming debt payment due on June 30, according to the report. The report adds that the company has “depleted all but $3.3 million of available liquidity reserves.”