As we went from deal to no deal on Thursday and Friday, finally a budget deal emerged. In a session that many thought the budget would be a much easier then usual, because the state had a surplus, it didn’t end that way. Texas has many needs that have been neglected over the years, and even with a surplus, there wasn’t enough to make up for that neglect and put back funding that was cut last session. And there was little will, in the majority, to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to make up for that.
Today was a huge win for the Democratic members of our Texas Legislature: they held firm in budget negotiations and restored $3.9 billion in funding to public education.In 2011, the Republican supermajority slashed $5.4 billion from our public schools, resulting in teachers losing their jobs and school children being unable to gain a competitive education. Restoring those funds has been a priority for Democrats this session. Today, Democrats held firm and struck a deal that restores $3.9 billion, which is the best that 55 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate can realistically do.
Pragmatically, this is the best we can do with Republicans in charge of our state who still seek to shortchange our children, and represents practically the highest dollar amount discussed to be restored to public education this session.
Of course $3.9 billion is better then $2.4 billion in education. And the Democrats deserve much credit for sticking to that. But the truly sad part is that a state with so much money right now, is hoarding so much of it while there are still so many in need. Millions without health care, so many hungry and suffering. It’s likely that we’ll start next session with a surplus too, another low estimate for this biennium from the Comptroller.
No matter how much money Texas has next session, we’re likely to be further behind two years from now. Because our state elected leaders continue to neglect funding what can truly make a state better off for all. Education, infrastructure, health and the welfare of those in need. Instead they will focus on tax cuts and keeping taxes low for those who have so much.
With time running out, legislative negotiators on Friday forged a two-year spending plan that includes an additional $3.9 billion for education, offsetting deep cuts imposed in public school funding two years ago.
The spending package, spread over three pieces of legislation, also calls for a total 3 percent pay increase for state employees as well as commitments to $2 billion in long-range water funding and at least $1 billion in tax relief.
Members of both Houses have just over a week to ratify the 2014-15 budget before lawmakers draw the curtain on their 140-day legislative session on May 27.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has threatened to call members back to work in special session if lawmakers don’t meet his demands on water, transportation and tax relief, is reserving judgment on the budget until it passes the Legislature, said a spokesman.
“We will take a look at the bill and make a decision on it once the Legislature sends it to us in its final form,” said deputy press secretary Josh Havens.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the number two member of the House Democratic leadership, called the budget a “a good compromise.”
“I wish the Legislature would fully restore the money that was slashed two years ago but this is a compromise and a positive development and I believe I can support this budget,” said the Tarrant County House member. “While it’s not perfect, it’s a big improvement.”
In contrast to the 2011 session, this year’s proposed budget reflects a statewide economic rebound that gave lawmakers a robust $101 billion in tax revenue, money used to at least partially roll back the cuts from two years ago.
Williams said the budget also calls for a “very significant increase” of about 8 percent for public-funded colleges and universities and about 16 percent for health-related institutions. Community colleges will get a “richer funding formula” under the proposal, Williams said.
Cuts in taxes and fees will total “just north” of $1 billion, Williams said. Perry outlined tax relief as a major priority in his State of the State Address in February, calling for a total package of $1.8 billion.
The plan would also restore reductions in the popular Texas Grants student assistance, providing enough money to reach about 83 percent of eligible students, said budget writers.
Under the proposed salary package, the nearly 220,000 state employees will get a 1 percent pay boost in 2014, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2015.
As part of the multi-faceted budget process, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would create a revolving bank to fund local projects under the state water plan.
The $2 billion to capitalize the fund would come through a drawdown from the state’s nearly $12 billion rainy day fund, proposed in a supplemental budget that will be considered next week.
The commitment to water salvages what appeared to be a doomed effort to fund the 50-year state plan to help Texas confront what planners say is a looming water shortage in the nation’s second most populous state. A water funding bill was killed by a point of order in the House and reviving the proposal was a top priority of budget negotiators.
Leaving $10 billion in the ESF while so many needs still go unmet is wrong. If budgets are moral documents then this one is still wanting.
There is so much to be said about the shit storm that’s currently engulfing President Obama’s second term. It’s becoming a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy of recent Presidents, (since Nixon?). That the second term becomes a scandal-plagued time when nothing gets done. And that a president only has the first part of his second term to really get anything done. But the reality is that in our current political structure it’s a feature, not a bug.
For those who bankroll our politicians the status quo is just fine. We have a political system that’s beholden to the corporations and the wealthy – a plutocracy. And in a plutocracy the people’s needs get pushed to the side and to keep them there we get “scandal” and the status quo. In other words if Obama, or any President going back to Nixon, was busy doing the people’s business, they wouldn’t need to be worrying the media, outside groups, and terrorism.
If Obama would have come into office and started using his power to save people’s homes, investigate the bankers, and threw some of their asses in jail, there never would have been a tea party. But since the bankers bankrolled his campaign he was unable to do that. And now we are where we are. That’s a very, very simple explanation of why we are where we are but we really don’t get much in depth discussion of why we are where we are nowadays. See what I mean, here and here. (BTW I really like the name Tiger Beat on the Potomac).
If a president get’s into deep shit, and I don’t think Obama is in any serious trouble (yet), the only thing that can save him is the people and/or a really strong economy. So, Mr. President, get busy taking care of the people and right the economy, and you’re second term will be a tremendous success.
It’s hard to tell most times what far right legislators in Texas hold more dear. Their oath of office:
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of a member of the House of Representatives of the 83nd Legislature of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state, so help me God.
Keep those two things in mind as the legislative session is coming to an end. Because right now the budget fight is boiling down to how to come up with the best scheme to “fund” state government for the next two years. It appears the only way left to increase funding for water, transportation, and education is by passing SJR 1 through the House. SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment that spends close to $6 billion on water, transportation and education. It would need to be ratified by Texas voters in November.
Lead House budget negotiator Rep. Jim Pitts teased with reporters late Monday on whether his agreement to hear a pet Senate measure in committee signals a possible breakthrough in talks to wrap up the session’s remaining money disagreements and avoid a special session.
“We will have a [committee] hearing on it this week,” Pitts, the chairman of House Appropriations, said of a Senate-passed constitutional amendment.
Previously, House leaders were highly critical of the Senate’s idea, saying it would set a bad precedent to kick budget matters to voters.
It needs 100 votes in the House to pass, and that would seem highly unlikely . Since it’s likely that anyone who votes for this will incur the wrath of Perry and the wing nuts (scorecard) for breaking the so-called Texas budget compact, but not their oath of office.
While Paul Burka’s disappointment is tied to his irrational exuberance, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic as the legislative session began. But when this is all viewed through the prism of the post below, it’s not hard to understand why things have gotten to this place. This is a golden opportunity for the extreme right too. And they would likely say they are having their best session ever. The state has plenty of money, and they’re still gutting government. For them it just doesn’t get any better. They’d likely even sign a pledge to that effect.
There’s a fundamental flaw in the way too many of us, who aren’t of the far right ideology, try to fight and reason with the far right/wing nuts. No matter what Jim Pitts and John Zerwas say. They have a completely different belief system and they do not aspire to the same end, and it’s foolish for us to assume they do. I want to make clear that this is not to pick on anyone or any organization, it’s just a realization that we must come to in order to fight the right as is needed.
Public structures—including education, health services, water supplies and transportation infrastructure—help maintain Texans’ quality of life, and they require adequate revenue to function properly. To provide adequate revenue, our state needs a balanced tax code without tax cuts, abatements, and subsidies that let some dodge their share of responsibility. Reducing taxes paid by some businesses means that other businesses or families have to make up the difference to help us take care of our public structures so they continue to take care of us. Investments in Texas’ future through education, health and human services, water and transportation will lead to a better chance for a more prosperous future for all of us than would tax breaks for certain businesses or so-called “economic development incentives” that lower taxes on a select few companies. [Emphasis added]
The hard truth, though, is that spending from the rainy day fund without reforming our state’s antiquated tax system is irresponsible. While we have a growing trillion-and-a-half-dollar economy, our antiquated revenue system — relying primarily on a sales tax on goods — takes an ever smaller percentage of our income, leaving the state too little to support the public services necessary to foster our economy.[Emphasis added]
And that’s just music to the wing nut ear. It’s pretty obvious that an ideology that wants to cut taxes, whether the state has a shortfall or a surplus, and never wants to adequately fund government will never reform our tax code in a way that would pay for things they see as an abomination.
The only way that the needed policy changes that the CPPP proposes and Texas needs is to replace our elected leaders. The sooner the better.
George P. Bush, Republican candidate for Texas Land Commissioner, has a quasi-rap sheet in Florida. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that the heir to the Bush dynasty is either a creepy ex-boyfriend or a stalker. It’s difficult to tell from just the police report.
Here’s the reason this, President Barack Obama’s permission structure, is so disheartening for so many Democrats and those on the left. He appears to be bending over backward and willing to sacrifice longstanding Democratic principals to cut a deal, instead of fighting for those longstanding Democratic principals. But, and it’s taken me a long time to get to this place, that’s really what Obama believes is best for our country. He’s willing to sacrifice Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and on and on…for a deal with the GOP.
And what has happened is that too many of us haven’t tried hard enough to force him in a different direction. There’s been an incredible amount of writing on how Obama has not done what the left or Democrats wanted or thought he would do as President. But one that I remember (not sure from where) was that Obama was sort of a blank canvas and that many Democrats projected their views onto Obama. Too many of us, myself included, just assumed he would do what we thought a Democratic president (FDR, LBJ) would, given the opportunity he had. Well, he didn’t.
Because of his great oration during the 2008 campaign it was thought that he could rally the people to his side. But Obama has never talked to the people enough and tried to rally their support. If he has it was when he was in a bind, he never really tried from the start. Whether it would have worked, may be up for discussion, but it should have been tried. But it was likely the only way he could have beat back the GOP obstructionsim, to take it on from the start of his Presidency.
To embrace what Rick Perlstein calls the Rules of Liberal Political Success. It could have been so easy. Bush left the economy in ruins and our foreign policy in a shambles. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize on credit, and he’s done little to live up to that since then, (see drones and Gitmo). The people were ready, they just weren’t engaged.
While Obama was right to urge graduates over the weekend to greater citizenship his definition was striking for it’s lack of passion. (Maybe why Stevenson never won the Presidency?)
I think about how we might perpetuate this notion of citizenship in a way that another politician from my home state of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, once described patriotism not as “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” That’s what patriotism is. That’s what citizenship is. (Applause.)
And the quotes President Woodrow Wilson on change.
But participation, your civic duty, is more than just voting. You don’t have to run for office yourself — but I hope many of you do, at all levels, because our democracy needs you. And I promise you, it will give you a tough skin. I know a little bit about this. (Laughter.) President Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
While Obama made enemies on health care, and continuing the bank bailouts that Bush started, it could have turned out different. Obama’s overriding principal is compromise, that’s how he starts his negotiations with the GOP, by laying out a compromise. His healthcare plan was, and he started by alienating much of his base by taking single-payer off the table from the start. And to fully investigate and reform Wall Street, was a huge missed opportunity. Which are just a couple of things that infuriate many Democrats and the left.
But the president also needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient. His whole budget strategy, after all, is directed almost entirely toward gently coaxing Republicans his way, without any concern as to whether what he is doing is demobilizing the very people he needs on his side now.
When, in pursuit of tax reform, he explicitly offered a compromise to change the index that determines Social Security benefits as part of his budget, he did so against the advice of many of his most loyal backers in Congress. That includes Democrats who would be willing to vote for that cut to Social Security benefits as part of a serious budget deal. But they insist that such a major step toward the Republicans should be taken only in return for concrete concessions from them on the need for more revenue.
If Obama wants to underscore that his problem is Republican obstruction, he should tell those GOP senators he likes to dine with that they need to come up with revenue very soon or else he’ll withdraw that “chained CPI” offer he claims not to like much anyway. Put up or shut up is a cliche, but a useful one.
Similarly, it’s worth asking why so many of Obama’s initiatives have dropped out of public view. Obama has called for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Many Democrats in Congress think, correctly, that it should be set at $10. Would it be so hard for Obama to come out fighting for the minimum-wage increase — and for other steps to bolster the incomes of those stuck at the bottom of the economy? Why not expose that none of this is happening because of GOP opposition?
Obama wants to provide universal pre-K education. That ought to be a bipartisan idea. Many Republican governors have embraced the concept in their states. Shouldn’t the president be pushing harder to get it on the media’s radar by way of forcing a debate in Congress?
The president believes we need to spend more on our infrastructure to boost job creation now and to make us competitive for the long run. He’s right. But he needs to make clear it is something that’s genuinely important to him.
It’s true that Obama spoke about both his investment agenda and preschool plans at last week’s much-maligned news conference. And the White House announced on Sunday that he would embark on a series of “middle class jobs and opportunity tours.” These should be shaped by a consistent, driving theme: that the stakes in this debate are larger than the day-to-day drone of partisan invective suggests.
Remember the Mark Twain line that Wagner’s music was better than it sounded? Obama’s program has more to do with growth and opportunity than he usually lets on. If he wants to rally us, he might want to change that.
While movements are what have really changed things throughout history, the hope was that a movement tied to a dynamic leader were going to bring transformational change. While I’ve done much to critique Obama in this post there’s also critiquing of us, the citizenship, in here too. We’ve been far too passive, standing by, and letting our government do little if anything in these past 5 years.
It’s also not to be taken as Obama-bashing. It’s about the realization of who Obama is (a compromiser first) and is not (the next great liberal Democratic president). Along with the realization that the Democratic Party decided to embrace oligarchy 30 years ago, And Tip was no bargain, either. And the only thing that can change that is a movement of the people
Cartoon outrages carried over into a second week in Texas, with the NRA blowing into town for the weekend. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs is so old that he remembers when protesting a gun nut convention was all about Tom DeLay.
Eight state agencies were invited to testify at the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee hearing, chaired by state Rep. Joseph Pickett, D-El Paso. As the investigation into the cause of the fire and subsequent explosion is still ongoing, many of the lawmakers questions dealt with fertilizer plant regulation in the state generally, and not whether or not the West disaster could have been avoided.
“The intent of this hearing is to try to shed light on where these facilities are located,” Pickett said at the outset. “This will be a learning process for the community at large. Ultimately, this is probably going to be a national issue.”
What became clear at today’s hearing is that among the several state agencies with oversight of fertilizer plants like West, there is no single agency tasked with safety inspections and coordinating with local governments on emergency response. [Emphasis added]
Spending state money on inspections and regulatory oversight would not have prevented the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant, he added.
More from State Impact:
But since ammonium nitrate isn’t considered an “extremely hazardous” chemical by state and federal agencies, plants only have to report to authorities if they have more than 10,000 pounds of it on hand. The state could have stricter reporting requirements if it chose to, according to David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The maximum amount the West Fertilizer plant reported to the state was 270 tons.
And the burden for communities to know where these chemicals are stored, and how to respond to emergencies at facilities that store them, falls on local officials. There are over 14,000 facilities in Texas that self-report having “extremely hazardous substances” on site, according to Lakey of DSHS. Representatives from that agency testified that chlorine and battery acid are the most common hazardous substances near communities, but that they only oversee reporting, not safety.
“How do they [the public] know if there’s a facility like this in their area?” asked state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton.
“There’s no overarching plan to educate people of what’s in their areas,” replied Steve McCraw, Director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Facilities like West are required to share their reports on safety and hazardous chemicals with local officials and emergency planning committees, but that may not always be the case, and those local committees may not always put plans in place to respond to incidents at plants like the one in West.
But following the first legislative inquiry into the catastrophic explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant last month, state leaders said they don’t foresee dramatic changes to the way Texas regulates similar chemical facilities.
“I think we’re prepared,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, which summoned leaders of the involved Texas agencies. “I don’t see any major changes. I think the state of Texas is in good shape.”
State Rep. Joe Pickett, chairman of the committee, began the two-hour hearing with a moment of silence for the West victims. He emphasized several times that the purpose of the meeting wasn’t to point fingers but instead learn how the state stays on tops of similar facilities that store dangerous materials.
That did not stop others from criticizing the regulations, or lack thereof, in place.
“You have a basic Texas attitude of resisting federal government,” said Jim Moore with Progress Texas, a political action committee.
Testimony revealed that Local Emergency Planning Committees shoulder a large portion of the safety checks that occur at similar plants across the state.
There are 270 LEPCs across the state and they are made up of members appointed by county judges.
However, the effectiveness of the committees, including the one responsible for West, are being questioned.
“It is absurd to think a local fire chief in little town like West will have the knowledge necessary to know if that a plant is operating safely,” said Moore.
Pickett said he was happy with what he heard from the testimony and believes Texas is ready and prepared, but did say he expects more emphasis and attention to be placed on LEPCs because of the West Explosion.
“You are going to see a lot of renewed interest from local communities asking ‘are we ready?’”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said that spending more state money on inspections would not have prevented the blast. State environmental regulators had last visited the fertilizer plant in 2006.
The truth is we will never know, for sure, if spending more state money on inspections would have prevented the blast. But if I, or any of my family members, lived near one of these facilities, or my kids school was close to one, I’d damn sure want to know it. I’d also want to know that it was being inspected on a regular basis from now on. Wouldn’t you?
The best we can hope for out of a tragedy like this is that we learn from it. We must do our best to insure that something like this never happens again. And it doesn’t make sense for anyone to think that we can’t leverage our state and federal government resources to help us do that.
Yesterday I linked to this article, Texas, Congress go blue if immigration reform goes down at the bottom of a post. It makes the point that if immigrations reform dies so will the Republican Party. While that likely makes some people smile – especially in Texas – if it did happen, something just like it would emerge to take it’s place. There will always be a right wing party, not matter what it’s called.
That being said, sometimes it does look like the GOP is trying to legislate itself into oblivion when it comes to the Hispanic vote. When looking at Medicaid expansion, they have a similar issue. Their rhetoric is against it , which also pits them against those who will benefit the most, Texas Latinos have most to gain from Medicaid expansion, while GOP counties have little to gain. And it’s a political conundrum for the GOP. Being for this may get them beat in a primary, but staying against may just get the Democrat’s foot back in the door in Texas.
Republican leaders in Texas have ideological opposition to Medicaid’s expansion, but also have little political reason to expand a program that would primarily benefit a constituency leaning towards the Democrats.
“Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into this fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system,” Gov. Rick Perry said at April 1 news conference. “That’s not just me who said that, by the way. In 2009, President Obama, himself, called Medicaid a broken system.”
Texas is one of 14 states that will not participate. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured population in the country at 24 percent, according to the Kaiser Foundation. For those with incomes 139 percent of the poverty level—those eligible for Medicaid expansion—Texas is second in the nation at 43 percent, one point below Nevada.
Kaiser data also show that a disproportionate number of Texas Latinos are uninsured. A majority of the uninsured in Texas—60 percent—are Latino, despite being 38 percent of the population. Latinos have an uninsured rate of 38 percent in Texas, compared to the statewide average of 24.
Texas appears to be an ideal candidate for Medicaid expansion: The worst health coverage rates, the promise of federal dollars, and its own estimated budget surplus of $8.8 billion.
Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in Texas, and are a majority of Texans without insurance. Texas Latino household incomes are about two-thirds the average, indicating Medicaid would disproportionately benefit this group. Yet with low voter turnout, most breaking for Democrats at the ballot, and with few significant competitive races hinging on Latino support, Texas Republican leaders have little reason to make the issue a political priority.
For many Texas Republicans, winning the party primary is the key election hurdle. Just ask David Dewhurst.
The worst area for health coverage are the counties along the border, many ranging from 30 percent uninsured to Texas’ leading county, Hudspeth at 43 percent, according to data from the Population Health Institute.
Jose Luna Jr. has worked as a clinical physician in El Paso for 30 years, serving many of the uninsured. Luna, currently the chief medical officer at Centro San Vincente, strongly supports the Medicaid expansion.
“There are people that I know that will die because of a lack of healthcare,” Luna said in a phone interview. “Patients that I have seen have a higher probability of dying simply because they have a lack of healthcare.”
Luna said he has lists of such patients, including one truck driver who lost his job after a stomach cancer diagnosis. Unable to work, the man lost his health insurance and relied on the clinic where Luna worked for care. The patient was unable to see an oncologist, and Luna said the only care he could provide was painkillers.
Luna said many Latinos in his community work service jobs without the full benefits many other sectors provide, explaining the dearth of insurance coverage.
“Health care should be a human right, not a privilege,” Luna said, describing the attitude towards healthcare he sees in many Latinos. Though Latinos are disproportionately affected by a lack of insurance in Texas, Luna said his support for Medicaid expansion was universal.
Republicans in Austin have little to fear in the short-term in their opposition to Medicaid expansion. However, national Republicans, who made courting the Latino vote a priority after the 2012 election loss, may take a different perspective. A Kaiser Foundation poll found that Obamacare was supported by a two-to-one margin among Latinos nationwide. [Emphasis added]
With Congress undoing the one and only thing you could say was good about the sequester, which is that it bound together the poor, middle class and the wealthy with the across the board cuts, sadly, this should not be that surprising, given their voting records.
In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.
It would be preferable that the Texas GOP wake up and do what is right now, and keep people from having to suffer unnecessarily. But if this is what it takes for Texans to finally wake up and vote in people that will actually make this a reality, then so be it.