09.27.11

100+ Texas ISDs join Equity Center litigation

Posted in Around The State, Education, Hutto, Public Schools, Taylor at 9:41 am by wcnews

Here’s the text of the Equity Center press release.

More Than 100 School Districts Join Equity Center Litigation Effort

(AUSTIN, TX) – More than 100 school districts across Texas have officially joined the Equity Center’s legal fight for fair funding for all Texas taxpayers and students. By passing a board resolution, these districts have formally recognized the crucial need to change the state’s unfair and inefficient school funding system.

Plaintiff districts range from large to small, urban to rural, and the number grows daily as school boards commit to join the effort. A complete list of Equity Center plaintiff districts will be released next week following the statewide school board convention in Austin.

Because the Legislature has failed to adopt a rational and efficient system that treats all Texas taxpayers and children fairly as required by the Texas Constitution, districts believe now is the time to take legal action. Given the disparities in student funding and taxpayer equity, these districts have a strong case and their position cannot be ignored.

For example, per student funding across Texas ranges from under $5,000 to over $10,000, even though state accountability standards are applied to all children uniformly.

Dr. Wayne Pierce, Executive Director, explains it this way: “We believe litigation is the only way to ensure taxpayer equity and a quality education for Texas children. We must litigate for a school finance system that makes sense and is fair to all children, taxpayers, and districts.”

The Equity Center is a non-profit advocacy organization that was founded in 1982 to promote fair funding for all Texas school districts, regardless of their wealth. In addition to serving as a resource for every school finance lawsuit in recent history, the Equity Center regularly educates its 690 member school districts and the public on school funding issues and works closely with the Texas Legislature to promote policy that treats all Texas children and taxpayers fairly.

Hutto and Taylor ISDs are part of the lawsuit.

09.15.11

Taylor and Hutto ISDs join lawsuit

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Hutto, Public Schools, Taxes, Taylor at 12:18 pm by wcnews

The problems we are having, once again, in funding education in Texas has to do with who (the rich)  and what (income)  we do, and more likely do not, tax.  To fund public education in Texas we do it mostly through a property tax.  Everyone should know by now that this system’s success was predicated on ever-rising real estate prices.  While Texas has not had a bust, as many states in the nation have, there’s certainly been a slow decline, if not a stagnation, in Texas real estate prices.  And that has caused some, but by no means all, of the current school finance problems.

But the legislature has forced many school districts hands by doing something it hasn’t don since 1949, Hutto ISD joins school finance suit against state.

Hutto ISD will join a lawsuit attacking the state’s school finance system and seeking equity for Texas students and taxpayers.

The Hutto Independent School District Board of Trustees voted Thursday night to become named plaintiffs, along with hundreds of other schools districts, parents, students and individual taxpayers, in a lawsuit to be filed by the Equity Center. The Center is an organization founded in 1982 by school districts as a response to what they deemed to be gross inequities in the state’s school finance system.

To cover costs associated with litigation, districts have been asked to commit $1 per Weighted Daily Average Attendance, or WADA, which amounts to about $5,992 for students in Hutto ISD.

“I’m not a big fan of suing the state,” trustee Phillip Boutwell said, “but I don’t think they’re going to change school finance unless somebody forces their hand.”

The litigation will focus on the Texas Legislature’s failure to fund enrollment growth for the first time since 1949 and seeks to address inequities inherent in the current school funding system, according to an Aug. 26 letter written by Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center.

Those inequities include a target revenue calculation method that favors wealthy districts, the Equity Center claims, as well as a property tax bias that creates dollar and tax gaps, causing districts in lower-wealth districts to receive less funding per student thus putting those students at a disadvantage.

The Center claims distribution of state funds using the target revenue system is arbitrary, with no “rhyme or reason” as to why comparable districts receive varying amounts of state funding.

“Under our [state] constitution, if a legislative scheme has no rational basis, it is unconstitutional,” Pierce writes. “This is a claim that has not been addressed by our Supreme Court because no funding scheme has ever been so irrational.”

That why in n a previously fast-growing district like Hutto, which added quite a bit of debt to build new schools, the bill is coming due, and the tax money is not coming as it once did to pay the bill.

The current system not only puts lower-wealth districts at a disadvantage, it punishes high-growth districts as well, according to Hutto ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Killian.

Saddled with high debt due to construction of buildings to accommodate a once fast-growing population, Hutto ISD is prevented by law from taxing more than 50-cents per $100 valuation to make payments on its mounting debt. The district currently is maxed at the 50-cent rate and was already running a budget deficit prior to additional state funding cuts made in the last session, causing Hutto ISD to carve out $4 million in operations expenses to balance its budget.

“We are one of the districts that has been hurt pretty drastically by the cuts,” Killian said. “Our hope is that we might be working our way through the court system in 2013 when the Legislature is in session.”

Taylor ISD was one of the first to join the lawsuit.

Taylor ISD just to the east of Hutto was one of the first districts to sign on to the Equity Center’s litigation. At its Aug. 29 meeting, the Taylor ISD Board of Trustees gave unanimous approval to join the lawsuit and make an investment of $4,030 to help cover litigation costs.

Jerry Vaughn, superintendent of TISD, said he was one of the superintendents in the state asked to participate in a meeting in Austin to discuss the lawsuit.

“Various districts across the state are affected by the current financial system,” he said, noting that one of the main issues is the significant disparity between how much higher-wealth school districts receive from the state compared to medium- or lower-wealth districts, like Taylor.

Vaughn went on to explain that in 2005-06, the legislature began a “target revenue” system that is still in place today, which favors property-wealthy school districts and largely freezes education spending at 2005-06 levels, except for enrollment growth.

“Bigger districts are getting more money because of targeted growth,” he said, adding that some districts are receiving as much as $8,000 more than they should.

Perry and the GOP passed a tax swap scheme in 2006 that is defending public education in Texas.  The GOP scheme created a multi-billion dollar annual structural budget shortfall.  And to cover for that in this past legislative session the GOP dominated legislature cut $4 billion from public education.  But Texas and Texans have never made fuding public education fair or a priority.  It’s reflected in the politicians that are elected, it’s reflected in the fact that public education has never been fully funded, and that we’ve never created a statewide finance system.

Public education funding will never be fixed in Texas until the state’s constitution is amended and a state income tax is implemented.

Further Reading:
Texas school districts inch closer to funding lawsuit.
Equity Center

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.

01.25.10

Commissioners to vote tomorrow on 5 year contract with CCA for T. Don Hutto

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, T. Don Hutto, Taylor at 2:50 pm by wcnews

Potential loophole left in contract, children not specifically excluded.

On the January 26, 2010 WCCC agenda items are numbers 21 and 22 relate to T. Don Hutto.  Received this via email:

The Agenda for the Williamson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, January 25, 2010, contains a “consider and approve” item for a five-year agreement between Williamson County and ICE/CCA to house federal detainees at T. Don Hutto.

We had heard that the new program would house only adults, with a women’s section.  Then we heard it would house only women. The problem is that, even though “women” are referenced, the general provision is to house “federal detainees”, but that term is not defined to include only adults or to exclude children. Clearly, the loophole allows for children to be brought back in.

Here’s the smoking-gun language for the loophole, from Section 3-A of the ICE agreement:

The Service Provider shall provide female beds on a space available basis.
The Service Provider shall house all residents as determined within the Service
Provider’s classification system.

This paragraph does not obligate “the Service Provider” to provide a minimum number of beds for women–in fact, there might be no beds for women at all if other categories of detainees (including children) use of all the other beds.

[Linked here are] both proposed agreements (with ICE and with CCA), which [were] downloaded from the respective agenda items’ backup documents on the county’s website.

Meeting begins at 9:30 AM tomorrow at the courthouse in Georgetown.

12.07.09

Rep. Maldonado To Host Community Forum on the Social, Economic Impact of Parks and Recreation

Posted in Good Stuff, HD-52, Taylor, Williamson County at 12:48 pm by wcnews

Via press release:

State Representative Diana Maldonado (HD-52) will host a Parks and Recreation Community Forum in Taylor on Wednesday December 9th, to discuss current facilities and programs in House District 52, as well as local and regional plans for the area.

“Parks and recreational facilities are a key component to providing local families and residents with active and healthy programs and activities, but they can also have a significant impact towards increasing local tourism and revenue opportunities,” Maldonado said. “Round Rock has provided a great blueprint for how to develop first-class recreational facilities to bring state and national events to the region and I believe Taylor and Hutto are moving in the right direction to capitalize on the opportunities quality parks can provide to our communities.”

The Community Forum is open to the public and will consist of a panel discussion involving experts from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the City of Round Rock, the City of Taylor and the Taylor Economic Development Corporation.

What: Community Forum on Parks and Recreation
When: Wednesday, December 9th at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Taylor Public Library, 801 Vance Street, Taylor

Representative Maldonado is hosting a series of Community Forums on issues of importance facing communities and residents throughout House District 52.

11.15.09

Rep. Maldonado Has Earned Taylor’s Support

Posted in Commentary, Election 2010, HD-52, Taylor, Williamson County at 12:36 pm by wcnews

(Op-Ed by Taylor resident Jose Orta.)

The Regular and Special Session of the 81st Legislature is over. It is now part of the history books. That can only mean one thing – we will soon face a totally new election cycle to decide who will represent us in the 82nd Legislature.

Last year, Williamson County elected Diana Maldonado, a former Round Rock ISD School Board President, to represent the southern half of the county in District 52. Diana and her supporters worked tirelessly to win Taylor‘s support. Thankfully, she eked out an 846 vote win. Rep. Maldonado is the first Democrat to win the District 52 House seat in 16 years.

Prior to Rep. Maldonado, Taylor was represented by Mike Krusee. During his tenure many people developed a distrust and disinterest in his one-note leadership of roads, roads, and more roads. Krusee was extremely instrumental in promoting the public-private partnerships negotiated in Texas for the building of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor. It seemed that the City of Taylor was simply an afterthought. For 16 years, Taylor suffered from benign neglect.

That’s what Diana wanted to change. Diana was willing to listen, asks tough questions and work for her constituents in Taylor. Rep. Maldonado provided the leadership to pass legislation that was vital and beneficial to our city. She was given important committee assignments and was recognized by nonpartisan groups.

Maldonado was successful in getting three locally important pieces of legislation passed. The most important being a bill designed to help finance the East Williamson County Higher Education Center. Funding was also secured for EWCHEC to start a Renewable Energy Training Institute (RETI).  Diana also sponsored HB 1789 which allows Taylor to use the current hotel occupancy tax to improve and expand recreational Sports facilities that are in Robinson, Murphy and the East Williamson County Regional Park. By allowing Taylor to use the hotel-motel occupancy tax revenue, Taylor can ensure the quality and stability of our parks and recreational areas for residents and visitors.

Diana Maldonado surprised many when she was given key important committee assignments by House Speaker Joe Straus (R- San Antonio). She sits on the House Committee on State Affairs and the Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. The Defense & Veteran’s Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over defense, emergency management and veteran’s issues. The State Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over state policy including regulated industries such as utilities, telecommunications and public lands. Maldonado was the only freshman selected to serve on it. She is also the only Central Texas lawmaker appointed to that committee. Speaker Straus (R-San Antonio) said it best when he said. “In selecting Representative Maldonado to these committees, I considered her wisdom, experience and proven ability to provide new, dynamic leadership and offer fresh ideas. We are fortunate to have Representative Maldonado as a member of these important committees.”

Not only was State Representative Diana Maldonado recognized as a proven leader by House Speaker Straus, she also won accolades from other groups. Maldonado was only one of 15 State Representatives to receive a perfect 100 percent rating by the non-partisan group Environment Texas for her voting record during the 81st Legislative Session. Diana was also named Freshman Legislator of the Year by the Texas Legislative Study Group Caucus.

Rep. Maldonado plans to run for re-election in 2010. Already three individuals have announced that they too will run. Rep. Maldonado has shown that she can deliver vital and beneficial legislation for Taylor. It is time to put our ideological differences aside and support Diana Maldonado as she continues her work to create local jobs, improve our infrastructure and make Taylor a better place to live. No matter if you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, now it is up to us to pledge our support for her re-election.

There is much more that Rep. Maldonado can do for Taylor. We need to continue to work with Rep. Maldonado to improve Taylor’s employment, growth and education potential. Taylor should have confidence that Diana Maldonado will continue to represent us well in the legislature. But she will need more than our confidence. She will need Taylor’s support and votes.

She has earned my support and my vote; hopefully, she has earned yours as well.

11.12.09

Maldonado Reelection Kick-Off next Thursday

Posted in Democratic Events, Good Stuff, HD-52, Taylor, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 5:35 pm by wcnews

State Rep. Diana Maldonado (D-Round Rock) will officially announced her bid for reelection to the Texas House on Thursday November 19th at Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, they have some of the best BBQ in Texas. Via her web site.

Please join us for a Campaign Kick-off for
REP. DIANA MALDONADO

November 19, 2009
5:30 until 8:00 p.m.

at Louie Mueller BBQ
206 W. 2nd Street
Taylor, TX 786574

Suggested Donation at the Door

You can RSVP via her facebook page.

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.

09.21.09

Taylor Daily Press on health reform

Posted in Commentary, Health Care, Insurance Reform, Taylor, Williamson County at 12:55 pm by wcnews

The Taylor Daily Press (TDP) in it’s recent reporting online has three interesting articles up on the health reform debate.  The first one is about how non-stop skyrocketing health care costs are effecting local businesses, Something must be done. There’s a theme in what these local businesses are saying, and it’s just common sense.

…constantly rising health coverage rates have affected residents for years, according to local businesses.

While employers around town are stumped when it comes to what needs to be done to cap the upward trend on the price of insurance, they do agree that something must be done. Otherwise, insurance could become too expensive for everyone but the top dogs in the business world.

“The price of insurance is controlled by pharmaceuticals and insurance companies, and until that’s under control, the prices are going to skyrocket,” S&D Plumbing owner Sam Dowdy said.

S&D is currently able to afford a competitive insurance package for all of its employees “between 20 and 30 individuals through Scott & White,” Dowdy said, but if the trend continues unchecked, things could get ugly.

[...]

At A&B Sheet Metal and Roofing, a group health policy through Blue Cross, Blue Shield protects about six full-time employees, according to administrative assistant Diana Voytek, who said the affordability of company insurance is “all relative.”

“We don’t really have any problems except for the fact that the price continues to go up,” Voytek said. “That’s not necessarily a problem by itself. But the policy changes to where the deductible is more, or the co-pay is more, or the prescription coverage is less. We haven’t had too many problems, but the coverage gets more complicated. That’s the problem.”

Still, Voytek isn’t necessarily afraid of a complete market meltdown. In her opinion, things have to get better eventually.

“I think at some point, something has to get the insurance companies in check,” Voytek said. “I don’t see it continuing this way forever.”

[...]

At Citizens National Bank, insurance is becoming increasingly difficult to afford, according to Branch Manager Deborah Parker. The bank employs about 60 full-time employees and offers insurance through Humana.

With the business’ current policy, employees must pay 10 percent of the premiums, which isn’t a bad deal, Parker said.

“It’s really getting harder to be able to offer (the package) to the employees where they don’t have to bear the burden of the cost on it,” Parker said. “If the cost of insurance could be capped to where it wouldn’t keep going up every year, that would help a lot, and more choices of in-network doctors close to home, so they don’t have to drive to Austin or Temple. [Emphasis added].

They’re all in essence talking about bringing some kind of “check” or “cap” into existence to keep the health insurance corporations honest. Hmm….how can that be done? No one in the article says it, but the federal government is the only entity that has to power to bring down health care costs that middle and lower income Americans need.  And that small and local businesses need to they can provide good health care for their employees.  The public option would not only hold insurance corporations accountable, but also bring true choice to the health insurance system in America.  Of course Medicare for all would be the best option.

The second TDP article is about how we are all are somewhat to blame for our current health care situation, as well as fixing it, Responsibility shared by all.

The health care debate is difficult for consumers to wrap their heads around, and those in the industry will tell you there is no easy answer around the corner.

Johns Community Hospital administrator Ernest Balla said there are many parties who share in the responsibility for the state of healthcare and its costs in the United States.

The government, the healthcare industry, insurance companies and consumers all helped create the current predicament and all will have to play a role in any changes or improvements.

Regardless of the responsibility, doctors -especially working in hospital emergency rooms – are put in a precarious position when it comes to providing care.

There’s not doubt that doctor’s are stuck in the middle right now between doing right for their patients and what the insurance corporation bureaucrats will allow them to do. While there is much talk about shared responsibility for the the problem, there was little talk about shared responsibility for fixing the problem.

And in the last article they got the thoughts of our local member of Congress on the issue, Rep. Carter weighs in. Needless to say Carter’s ramblings are filled with erroneous statements about “government run..healthcare” which has never been a part of any proposal that’s passed a House or Senate committee, and “cuts to Medicare” in an attempt to scare seniors.

While it’s good to see the TDP use a significant amount of print on the health care reform issue, it would have been nice to see them fact check Carter, and provide more on what’s actually being proposed.  Hopefully they’ll have some of that in future issues.

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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