11.09.11

Thoughts on yesterday’s election results – low turnout, mixed results

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Elections, Hutto, Round Rock, Williamson County at 11:25 am by wcnews

Yesterday’s results were mixed at best.  Locally the results couldn’t have been worse.  The Hutto ISD Tax Ratification Election (TRE) failed by a 57% – 43% margin – 742 votes were cast in that election.  Here’s the likely results, from what the ISD stated before the election in it’s FAQ.

Where does the district plan to cut if additional cuts are required?
If the November 2011 TRE does not pass, HISD will need to further trim it’s operating budget by $1.2 million for the 12-13 school year. This would translate to $5.7 million in budget cuts over a two-year period. While the district has not yet decided specific actions on where to cut, additional cuts could include: Increase the average class sizes district-wide for grades K-12; increase the Co-Curricular, extracurricular student participation fees; No band travel to away football games; reduce number of custodians district-wide; reduce summer school services; initiate a hiring freeze; reduction of additional staff through attrition; additional 2-5% reduction in department/campus budgets; and to begin charging to bus students.

And in the city of Round Rock voters opted for higher hotel taxes to pay for a new sports facility, and will shift money previously allotted for transportation projects to be spent on so-called “economic development” projects instead.

The county wide turnout was 6.83%.  See the final Williamson County results here.

Statewide all but three propositions passed (4, 7, and 8). Proposition 4 which would have allowed the state to shirk it’s transportation funding responsibility onto local entities went down in a heap, losing by a margin of 60% – 40%.

The statewide turnout was around 5.30%.  See the final statewide results here.

The turnout is the worst part of yesterday’s election.  It should also be remembered the next time you hear state legislative leaders talk about putting issues on the ballot for the people of Texas to decide.  The off-year, low turnout, elections are no way to gunge the mood of the people in the state on these issues.  Legislators know that these elections are an opportunity to try and “sneak” controversial issues by the people, and shift the blame for these policies onto the voters who ratify them. (More on that soon).  It’s also no way to run a democracy.

There was some damn good news from Ohio yesterday, Ohio Gov. Kasich admits that, on Issue 2, ‘the people have spoken clearly’.

And nationally the wind feels to be changing, The Dems’ Big Big Night.

The results were not entirely unexpected. But the margins and the uniformity of last night’s election results tell an important story going into 2012. Across the country, Republican overreach coming out of the 2010 election was decisively rejected by voters in multiple states.

03.28.11

More education cuts in Williamson County – RRISD to cut 280 employees

Posted in Education, Public Schools, Round Rock, Williamson County at 11:28 am by wcnews

Press release from the RRISD web site, District begins notifying employees of job loss. Excerpt below:

Round Rock ISD has begun the process of notifying contracted employees of their job status for the 2011-2012 school year. Due to the state budget deficit, Round Rock ISD is preparing for a $60 million reduction in state funding. Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees are committed to using $25 million from the district’s fund balance to help lessen the impact of the 2011-2012 budget deficit.

[...]

The district will notify approximately 280 probationary employees that their contract will be recommended for termination during a called board meeting in April:

  • 234 probationary classroom teachers (Includes employees who have daily contact with the same group of students, such as core-content, elective and certain special education teachers. Reductions obtained by adjusting the student-teacher ratio.)
  • 19 instructional support/enrichment positions (Includes employees who enhance or support the education of students, such as interventionists, dyslexia teachers, talented and gifted teachers and teachers that support special education students.)
  • 5 central office instructional support positions (Includes employees who work directly with teachers to enhance the instruction provided to students, such as instructional technology specialists and instructional coaches.)
  • 22 campus support positions (Includes employees who assist in the daily operation of campuses, such as counselors, nurses and assistant principals.)

[...]

The district has also identified approximately 70 central office and auxiliary employees who will be laid off; however, this number may increase as the district works through the budget process. It’s important to note, that unlike other districts, Round Rock ISD does not provide contracts to central office employees and they are considered at-will. Since these employees are not under contract the district will notify them at a later date, once the information has been finalized. The central office reductions cover all levels of employees, from assistant superintendent; director; coordinator; specialist; and many other hourly support staff, while impacting all departments and programs. We remain committed to cutting a higher percentage from areas outside of the general classroom

Just another day in Rick Perry’s “Texas Century”.

02.10.11

Public education in the “Texas Century”

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Hutto, Public Schools, Round Rock, Taxes, Williamson County at 3:03 pm by wcnews

Public schools are facing massive cuts to their budgets in the coming years.  In Williamson County the two School Districts (ISDs) most in the news so far have been Hutto and Round Rock.  To be sure all ISDs across the state and county are facing a reduction in funds from the state as a result of the massive $27 billion projected budget shortfall.

In Hutto they are pulling out all the stops, Turmoil for Hutto ISD. The plan so far includes a school closing, layoffs, less bus service, selling ad space on buses (*), and trademarking the Hutto Hippo.  It’s most certainly a shame when our ISDs have to resort to gimmicks and tricks to continue to fund public education.  But that’s what the future holds in Gov. Rick Perry’s “Texas Century”.

All of these proposed budget cuts are expected to save the district $4 million, to offset a proposed 10 percent overall budget cut to HISD from the state.

“We are still a fast-growth district but we’ve had three years of deficit budget,” [HISD Superintendent Doug] Killian said. “Because we have been a fast-growth district for some time now we have received money from the state in the past to fund that enrollment growth but we won’t receive that for the next two years. From the legislature, we’re getting management of a problem and not leadership to solve a problem.”

Currently, HISD has a $1.4 million budget deficit. Killian said the state is in a budget crisis, especially on the education side, because legislators granted property tax relief but redirected the revenue for public schools through the state’s business franchise tax. Killian said this tax has been incorrectly calculated, meaning school districts have lost funding.

The Superintendent is right to highlight the Perry/Texas GOP tax swap scheme that has created a known, and enduring, structural  shortfall in the Texas budget.  This came out during the Senate Finance Committee hearings last week, Texas’ budget challenges could persist beyond 2011.

Texas’ budget problems will not go away when legislators eventually sign a balanced budget later this year, senators heard on Monday.

A $10 billion budget shortfall will reappear in future legislative sessions again and again unless lawmakers better align how much money comes in and how much goes out, said John Heleman, chief revenue estimator for Comptroller Susan Combs.

Some state leaders have attributed the state’s budget woes solely to the economic downturn and have vowed to deal with the current budget shortfall, estimated at $15 billion to $27 billion, through spending cuts alone.

Heleman, with some prompting from senators, said a “structural deficit” developed in the state budget after the 2006 school finance reform package that lowered local school property taxes and restructured the business tax.

[...]

Billy Hamilton, a former deputy comptroller, said in an interview that there was always an understanding that the 2006 tax changes did not completely pay for themselves.

“As long as the economy was going great guns, there was a structural problem, but it was a manageable structural problem,” Hamilton said. “When you run into the Great Recession, your options get narrowed real fast. … They basically go away.”

What that means is a large part of our current shortfall was purposefully created in 2006 by the GOP tax swap scheme.  Even under “normal” economic circumstances we would be facing a shortfall this session.  And the only reason we didn’t have to deal with one last session was because of the federal stimulus passed by the Democrats and President Obama.

Notice it’s not called a failed scheme because, at least in the GOP’s eyes, it hasn’t failed. The GOP has had it in for public education for decades. So this should not surprise anyone.  That this was purposeful is also borne out by the fact that the GOP does not seem to want to fix this, and more than anything, sees it as an opportunity to make Texas even more unequal.

The Republicans continue to spout a half-truth against tax increases during a recession. In a recession like the current one, where demand is an issue, where poor and working Texans don’t have enough money, of course it’s not good to raise their taxes. It will only cause the recession to be extended.

But the same can’t be said for those at the upper income brackets.  Especially in Texas where the wealthy pay a much lower percentage of their income in taxes then poor, working, and middle class Texans.  They spend the same whether the economy is up or down. It will do little, if anything, negative to the economy for those who already have more then enough money to provide for all that they need, to be asked to help their state and finally pay their fair share.

In order to keep public schools operating well, keep nursing homes open, keep children from losing their health care, and build new roads and infrastructure, (free of costly blackouts). To insure their continued prosperity in the future they need an educated and healthy workforce, along with a modern and efficient infrastructure.  Poor, working, and middle class Texans have been carrying the rich in this state for far too long.  It’s time for them to step up.

(* The disclaimer on the ad should say brought to you by Rick Perry and the Texas GOP)

09.17.10

Maldonado fires back over debate flap

Posted in Commentary, Election 2008, Good Stuff, HD-52, Round Rock, Williamson County at 5:27 pm by dembones

State Rep. Diana Maldonado (D-Round Rock) officially responded to the latest round of attacks from Republican Larry Gonzales, saying Gonzales “shot himself in the foot”. Maldonado confirmed her intention to appear at two bi-partisan candidate forums. Gonzales claimed on his campaign web site and social network outlets that Maldonado has refused to debate. Maldonado offered Gonzales a ride to the forums that the campaigns have mutually agreed to attend in case “he doesn’t know how to keep a schedule”.

The full text of the press release is right after the fold, and includes some of the strongest language seen from the Maldonado campaign. Political observers have questioned the wisdom of Gonzales’ attacks, given the ease with which they are refuted. The Gonzales campaign’s prior attack, in which he criticized the Maldonado campaign for hiring canvassers, also fell short of its mark. The use of paid canvassers is common on a campaign of this size, and besides it creates jobs in Williamson County. Is Gonzales opposed to job creation?

Maldonado is quoted in the press release drawing a pattern from the Gonzales attacks, relating it to his prior experience as a Republican political consultant.

“Larry may not understand this, but working on policy issues is different than working on political campaigns,” Maldonado stated, referring to Gonzales’ political consulting business that has taken in over a million dollars to create attack ads. “In policy, you actually have to know your facts,” she added. (Emphasis added)

Read the rest of this entry �

09.16.10

Out of ideas, Gonzales resorts to lying about Maldonado

Posted in Central Texas, Commentary, Election 2010, HD-52, Had Enough Yet?, Local Elections, Money In Politics, Right Wing Lies, Round Rock, Williamson County at 5:43 pm by dembones

Republican house district 52 nominee Larry Gonzales has resorted to lying about his opponent in order to get his campaign out of the ditch. In one single press release, Gonzales makes no less than six false or deceptive statements.

  1. Gonzales implies that Maldonado employs a consultant in Virginia. To disprove this statement, simply look at the campaign finance reports. There are no payees or donors from the state of Virginia.
  2. Gonzales claims that Maldonado “has ducked and run from any attempt at a public debate”. Maldonado will appear at the GAHCC forum on Oct. 5, and a second bi-partisan forum is being planned at Southwestern University.
  3. Gonzales claims that Maldonado declined a debate at the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GAHCC). This lie falls flat when you check the calendar and find that Maldonado has been booked for the GAHCC’s Oct. 5 forum for several weeks.
  4. Gonzales claims that Maldonado requested questions 7 days in advance of the GAHCC forum. Maldonado campaign spokesperson Mitra Salassel said, “The only request we made was a standard inquiry as to the format of the forum.”
  5. Gonzales claims that Maldonado represents Austin instead of Williamson County. Maldonado’s record of securing funding for critical projects in district 52 speaks for itself. Maldonado secured funding for the Renewable Energy Training Institute of Williamson County, $16 million for the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Round Rock and $350,000 for the Texas State University’s Round Rock Higher Education Center. Maldonado also secured $10 million in funding for the expansion of FM 1460. These projects directly improve the economy and quality of life in Williamson county, and represents a total change in direction from the former Republican representative from that district, Mike Krusee, whose singular focus was on converting agricultural land into toll roads.
  6. Gonzales uses “Texas P2″ to refer to the “Texas Prosperity Project”, a Koch Industries-funded fake-grassroots organization that is part of a nationwide effort, active in 35 states, to undermine President Obama, prevent access to health care, avoid regulation of clean air and stop financial regulation. Gonzales states that Texas Prosperity Project “is comprised of business and industry”, which is true if what you mean by “business and industry” is a sampling of oil and gas companies, banks and insurance companies.

The voters in district 52 remember well what it was like to have an Austin-focused representative who carried water for Gov. Perry on his pet projects — toll roads — using district 52 as a laboratory for experimenting with selling off our public infrastructure to private corporations. We don’t want to go back to that. The voters of district 52 know why most of Gonzales’ campaign has been financed by Bob Perry. A vote for Gonzales is a vote to keep the Texas Residential Construction Commission, even though the Sunset Commission staff found the TRCC to be dysfunctional and recommended its repeal.

Burnt Orange Report’s Philip Martin is also all over this.

04.25.10

May local election news

Posted in Cedar Park, Georgetown, Hutto, Jarrell, Leander, Liberty Hill, Local Elections, Round Rock, Taylor, Williamson County at 6:25 am by wcnews

Local elections are coming up May 8th with early voting starting on Monday. Here are the local races, via the Williamson County Elections page, (includes early voting schedule):

Liberty Hill ISD
Leander ISD
Pflugerville ISD
Round Rock ISD
City of Cedar Park
City of Georgetown District 3
City of Granger
City of Hutto
City of Jarrell
City of Leander
City of Liberty Hill
City of Taylor (citywide)
City of Taylor District 4
City of Thrall
Block House Creek MUD
Brushy Creek MUD
Fern Bluff MUD
Sonterra MUD
Wells Branch MUD
Anderson Mill Limited District
Chisholm Trail SUD
Austin Community College

Below are some recent news articles on the elections.  Any candidates or supporters of candidates have any articles to add for any of these races or information on the candidates, feel free to do so in the comments.

Get to know the candidates: 2010 Leander City Council Candidates.

Get to know your candidates: 2010 Cedar Park City Council.

RRISD School board candidates address issues at PTA forum.

Hutto Council races heat up.

Impact News has a good synopsis for Georgetown, Hutto, and Taylor.

Taylor Council candidates respond to city issues.

From the AusChron, ACC Board Elections: Meet the Candidates.

12.18.09

Unemployment drops to 8% in Texas, Austin-Round Rock down to 6.9%

Posted in Around The State, Austin, Employment, Good Stuff, Round Rock, The Economy, Unemployment at 11:28 am by wcnews

Great news on the employment front in Texas, via the Texas Workforce Commission, employment in Texas increased by 17,300 positions in November [.pdf].

The Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined to 8.0 percent in November, down from 8.3 percent a month ago, and continued to trend well below the U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November at 10.0 percent. The Texas Civilian Labor Force reached its highest level ever at 12.1 million workers in November.

Total nonagricultural employment in Texas increased by 17,300 positions in November for a total of almost 70,000 jobs over the past two months, while the nation as a whole lost 122,000 jobs.

“Texas employers added a significant number of jobs in most industries during October and November,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “Job growth coupled with a lower unemployment rate indicate movement in a positive direction for Texas.”

During November, Mining and Logging employment increased by 5,100 jobs, Financial Activities employment rose by 4,700 jobs, and Professional and Business Services added 3,300 positions. Leisure and Hospitality employment increased by 4,800 positions in November.

AAS reports on the Austin-Round Rock numbers, Austin jobless rate falls, but job losses continue.

The Austin area unemployment rate fell in November, but job growth deepened, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The jobless rate in November was 6.9 percent, down from 7.2 percent in October but up from 4.9 percent a year earlier.

The region lost 4,300 jobs from November 2008 to last month, a loss rate of 0.6 percent.

More proof that the stimulus is working and hopefully this trend will continue.

12.10.09

Sales tax allocations stay down, causing future budgetary concerns

Posted in Around The State, Austin, Commentary, Election 2010, Round Rock, Taxes, The Budget, Williamson County at 3:58 pm by wcnews

The sales tax numbers for Austin and Round Rock – as well as the state as a whole – continue their slide.  Austin’s allocations are 8.73% lower this December than last, and down 10.64% for the year.  Round Rock’s are even worse 21.76% for December and 12.43% for the year.  (List of Top 20 cities in Texas allocations).  For Williamson County cities as a whole allocations are down 17.05% in December and 9.91% for the year.  (List of cities by county, scroll down until you see Williamson).

GOP Lt. Gov. Davide Dewhurst speaking in Waco yesterday, (tip to Comeandtakeitblog), appears to be willing to use the Rainy Day Fund (RDF) to balance the budget in 2011.  He also wants most state agencies to cut their budgets by 2.5% to help balance the budget in 2013.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst discussed a proposal to cut state agency spending during the next 3 1/2 years, hoping to offset a budget deficit and projected shortfalls, during a visit to Waco on Wednesday.

The state’s structural budget deficit — the result of 2006 school property tax cuts that weren’t offset by business taxes — along with the bleak economy have contributed to a gloomy long-term financial outlook for Texas that spells trouble in 2013, Dewhurst said in a meeting with the Tribune-Herald editorial board.

A Republican who, as lieutenant governor, presides over the state Senate, Dewhurst said that by using the Rainy Day Fund lawmakers will be able to balance the state’s budget in 2011. But he said agency cutbacks are crucial to getting through the 2013 legislative session. The sooner cuts kick in, the better, he said.

“I’d rather start today so that any belt-tightening is smaller than if we wait around and sit on our hands,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst laid out a plan that would cut most state agencies’ budgets by 2.5 percent during 3 1/2 years to cover the projected budget shortfall in 2013 and give the state’s economy time to pull out of the recession. He said his plan would spare public education and health and human services programs.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) contends that the RDF will be insufficient to balance the budget in 2010, and they “..urged our federal officials to provide additional state fiscal stabilization to avoid cuts to critical state functions such as public education.

Dewhurst has a plan, he deserves credit for that. All candidates running for office in Texas in 2010 must address the upcoming budgetary concerns facing Texas in the next several years.

10.09.09

Sales tax receipts lower in September

Posted in Around The State, Recession, Round Rock, Taxes, Taylor, The Economy, Williamson County at 3:43 pm by wcnews

Via the Texas Comptroller’s web site, Comptroller Susan Combs Delivers $418 Million in Local Sales Tax Revenue.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said today the state collected $1.47 billion in sales tax in September, down 12.5 percent compared to a year ago.

“Declining sales tax collections, which began in February, have continued with September’s collections,” Combs said. “Weakness is still evident in all major sectors of the state economy, including oil and natural gas, retail trade, and construction. Decreases in monthly collections are expected to continue through the end of 2009.”

The AAS had this to say about the local numbers.

The City of Austin received $10.2 million, down 7.1 percent from August 2008. For the first eight months of the year, Austin’s sales tax revenue was 10.9 percent lower than the same period of 2008.

Round Rock received $4.4 million, down 13.4 percent from August 2008. Round Rock’s sales tax revenue was down 11 percent for the first eight months of the year.

Go here to look at the numbers for Williamson County. Taylor is down 26% for the year.

This hurts particularly bad in Texas where we don’t have an income tax or, to coin a phrase, a “fair and balanced” tax system. When the sales tax funds so much of our public system, and it takes a massive hit like this it means things are likely to get worse before they get better. Here’s what the Dallas Fed said yesterday about the Texas economy, Optimism Amid Uncertainty.

08.19.09

Taxes on the rise in Williamson County

Posted in Commissioners Court, Georgetown, Hutto, Round Rock, Taxes, Taylor, Williamson County at 11:35 am by wcnews

It’s a fact of life in Texas – where we mainly use two taxes, (sales and property), are used to fund local government – that when one goes down, the other will have to go up. In Williamson County, Round Rock in particular seems to be facing the biggest challenge in the near future.

The Texas Comptroller’s July sales tax figures show the problem.  The cities in Williamson county overall are collecting less sales tax this year, down 11.61% in July, and down 10.51% for the year so far.  But for Round Rock the news is much worse, where sales taxes were down 19.85% in July, and are down 13.55% for the year so far.

It was possible to keep property taxes low in Round Rock because of the tremendous sales tax revenue it received as a result of  being the home to Dell Computer. That will no longer be the case, Tax rate increase sought to help offset decline in Dell sales taxes.

Worried about slumping sales tax revenue from Dell Inc., a huge source of income for the City of Round Rock, budget officers on Tuesday further increased the property tax rate in next year’s proposed city budget.

At a retreat to discuss the 2009-10 budget, officials adjusted the proposed tax rate to 39.66 cents per $100 of assessed property value from the previously proposed rate of 38.91 cents. Last year’s rate was 36.52 cents per $100 of assessed value.

[...]

The utility rate will increase by a proposed 5.8 percent in January 2010, which is the last of the scheduled rate increases since 2006 to pay for a partnership with the cities of Leander and Cedar Park to provide water from Lake Travis.

The number in Round Rock are startling because of the impact it now has on the county overall.  While the cities in the county, as a whole, so far have taken in almost $7.3 million less than they had at this time last year. A little over $6 million of that is from Round Rock alone.  Round Rock represented, at this time last year, 64% of the sales tax revenue, so far this year 62%.  It’s easy to see from that why Round Rock, the largest city in the county, is a major part of the county’s economic performance. The next closest in sales tax revenue are Cedar Park And Georgetown which bring in less than 1/4th of the money that Round Rock does.

Another hard hit city in the county is Taylor. Where according the Comptroller they’re sales tax revenue is down almost 28% from this time last year. And the tax rate will being going up in Taylor, Max tax rate set.

The Taylor City Council unanimously approved setting the upper limit of the city’s tax rate at 81.4767 cents— just over 2 cents more than the current tax rate. The council will set the new tax rate Sept. 3.

Property taxes may go up in Hutto as well. Not because of a sales tax revenue decrease, but because of the passage of bond propositions, Hutto’s bond election set.

Hutto City Council approved Nov. 3 as the date for residents to determine if the city should issue more than $22 million of debt for parks and street improvements and lengthening city council terms to three years.

[...]

Street improvements include upgrading Farley, East, West, Jim Cage and Metcalf streets and Mager Lane. Sidewalk projects are also included along FM 1660, connecting a network of sidewalks to existing and planned sidewalks and fencing along Carl Stern Boulevard and Front Street.

The remaining three propositions address proposed parks and recreation projects. They would include creating a parks master plan for Fritz Park, future parkland acquisition, creating a 25,000 square foot YMCA recreational center and a sports complex.

If voters approve the projects, property taxes will be affected. City Finance Manager Micah Grau gave an initial estimate of a 20-cent tax rate increase as bonds are issued. Those rate hikes would come over time as each portion of the bond is issued.

Of course the Williamson County Commissioners Court last week made it clear that county property taxes are going to be raised too, Our broken health insurance system is hitting home in Williamson County.

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