04.29.11

Texas Democrats have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Special Session, Taxes, Teachers, The Budget, The Economy at 11:13 am by wcnews

Texas Democrats finally have the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.  For a generation, if not longer. Whether they realize it or not is an entirely different matter.

Here’s the choice as laid out by on editor in the traditional media, The budget choice Texas Senate Dems face.

Some Senate Democrats fear that Senate Republicans would not fight for this bill, which would use about $85 billion in general revenues, when the House and Senate go into a conference commiittee. So, why vote for this, even if it meets more needs than the House’s flinty budget?

That is a legitimate question, but what is the alternative? They could try to stall the debate into a special session this summer, when teachers could come to Austin every day and raise the devil. But the Senate’s complex rules would not favor Dems in a special session.

Rules then would largely favor the dominant GOP. And they could come up with a budget that is much flintier than the current Senate plan.

If I were in the shoes of a Senate Democrat, I’d take the devil I know. It in’t that this Senate budget is all that great. But it could be as good as it gets.

Frankly there is no choice.  The Democrats best strategy is to stick together, and make the GOP fight amongst themselves, and make them own this budget – lock, stock, and barrel.  The longer this fight drags on the worse the political climate will get for the GOP and the better it will get for Democrats.  The Democrats only power is to keep this bill from coming to the floor.  Period!  Once that happens it’s down to a simple majority and the fight is over.

Why in the world would Democrats go along with Republicans and their plan for the destruction of Texas? The best strategy for Democrats moving forward is that unless the GOP is willing to embrace something along the lines of a balanced approach, then make them own this budget.  Make them change Senate rules, even better, more attention to their abhorrence of tradition and democracy. (Think Wisconsin!)

Any Senate Democrat that votes for this budget without Sen. Steve Ogden and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pledging, on the Bible, to support inclusion of the RDF is no longer worth supporting.

Some Democrats are worried that there’s no outrage over the proposed budget, Where’s the budget outrage, some lawmakers wonder.

Not enough Texans understand the magnitude of billions of dollars worth of budget cuts, said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t think the business community gets it,” he said. “I don’t think the media fully comprehends the magnitude of this problem. I think the average Texan faces a disconnect.

“Unfortunately, many will get it when we leave here. Teachers are getting it now because they are losing their jobs,” he said.

Thousands of teachers will lose their jobs, and thousands of elderly folks will get booted out of nursing homes because of severe budget cuts, Turner said.

“At some point, it will dawn on folks that this problem is for real,” he said.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio believes a “rumbling” is only starting to shake up Texans.

He and other Democrats want the Senate to stand firm. Don’t bring up the budget without assurances that lawmakers will pull out at least $3 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, they say.

It would be better for legislators to fail on adopting a budget before the regular legislative session ends on May 30, they say. Doing so would increase public awareness for the state’s budget problem and more focus for summer special session, Villarreal says.

The Senate budget cuts far less than the House plan. But the Senate budget still cuts public education by more than $5 billion and does not cover the cost of about 170,000 more school children, Villarreal said. The Senate budget still cuts higher education by some $2 billion, which will result in higher college tuition, he said. And it cuts health and human services by about $7 billion, which will force some nursing homes to close.

“There will be seniors – grandmas and grandpas – on the street. We have an obligation to do better,” Villarreal said.

If no one is focused on the budget then a special session devoted entirely to the state budget would be a great way to get Texans to focus on the budget. As Paul Burka recently pointed out.

I was on KXAN’s Sunday morning Politix broadcast and was asked if I thought there was going to be a special session. I said I didn’t know, it was too early to say, but most of the Capitol community doesn’t like special sessions. It’s not just the disruption of vacation plans (NCSL, ALEC). It’s the heat. It’s spectre of thousands of teachers rallying outside the Capitol every day. But it seems almost unavoidable. [Emphasis added]

Not just teachers, but unemployed teachers, laid off because of the disastrous reign of the Texas GOP. Teachers that are not on vacation, or preparing for the upcoming school year, because for they can’t afford a vacation and for them there will be no school next year.

The more the Democrats can do to make the GOP own this budget the better for them, and the better for Texas in the long-run. The sooner the GOP nirvana in Texas becomes a reality, and is seen for what it is, the sooner we can start picking up the pieces.

The House plan, embraced by Gov. Perry, would be disastrous for Texas. It’s so bad that Texans of all political stripes understand that it’s time to raise taxes.

Here’s what former Democratic state Sen. Eliot Shapliegh said recently about the Democrats who voted in favor of the budget in the Senate Finance Committee, Shapleigh decries ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ senators.

“What is coming is awful. $27 billion in cuts will do generational damage to people’s lives. Whatever happens in the Senate, the House will cut more,” Shapleigh told the Guardian.

“All session long, some D’s diligently work on a budget that will wreck their town, all for a birding center or committee chair. Call it building a Bridge over the River Kwai.”

Shapleigh did not mention any names. He did not have to. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Finance passed the Senate version of House Bill 1, the state budget for the 2012-13 biennium. Two Democrats voted with the Republicans, state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Royce West, D-Dallas.

“What you always hear is ‘that’s the best we can do.’ Here’s my answer to that: bull,” said Shapleigh. “What happened in 2006 when $10 billion of permanent deficit was stuck in the budget? What did you do then? Where were you when (former state Senator) Teel Bivins quietly cut the inheritance tax then hiked tuition? Where was your voice?”

Shapleigh, who represented El Paso in the Senate from 1997 to 2010 and served on the Senate Finance Committee, said Democrats have to stand for government by and for the people, not the wealthy few.

“If Democrats now vote for bills that wreck schools, hospitals and nursing homes, who then will protect people?” he asked.

[...]

Shapleigh said a spirited campaign against budget cuts and for investments in the community can pay dividends at the ballot box. He pointed to the defeat of state Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, by Democratic primary challenger Carlos Uresti after Madla voted to allow legislation to come to the Senate floor that led to major cuts in the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2003.

Shapleigh campaigned for Uresti along the border. He believes the cuts in CHIP were the deciding factor in Madla’s defeat. It was, Shapleigh believes, one of the early examples of the Internet providing residents in far flung communities with information they never had before about the votes of their legislators.

Shapleigh said he does not believe voting with the Republicans for a budget that cuts essential services is justified, even if it means a Democratic senator is rewarded by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst with a seat on the conferencing committee that will sort out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

It is widely thought that Hinojosa and West will be named on the conference committee for the budget bill.

Shapleigh believes Dewhurst is a master at putting the Democrats to work on crafting a budget that will ultimately be made much worse when it comes out of the conference committee.

“Why do the D’s do it? Session after session, none ask the most important question: why do we enable a mean spirited, absolutely failed tax system, now with a $10 billion structural hot check, that keeps getting worse?” Shapleigh asked.

He called this the “mother of all deficit sessions,” one that will do generational damage to the state of Texas.

This is the opportunity Texas Democrats have been waiting years for. It’s a way to show the GOP as the cold, cruel and irresponsible party they are. It’s the opportunity to draw that big, bright, contrasting line between the parties. Democrats stand for the people, Republicans stand for the wealthy and corporations.

It’s the opportunity to show that the Democrats stand for poor, working and middle class Texans. For the needy, the elderly, and the mentally ill. For education, for infrastructure and investment in our state. For the people. As Shapliegh said, “If Democrats now vote for bills that wreck schools, hospitals and nursing homes, who then will protect people?”

There is a choice. The choice is whether to stay on the sidelines or to fight for the people of Texas. Let’s hope Texas Democrats finally make the right choice.

04.28.11

Texas House redistricting map moves forward – new Cedar Park district created

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Redistricting, The Lege at 11:52 am by wcnews

HB 150, the new map, passed last night and can be viewed by going here. (Choose Select Plans, Plan Type: House, the scroll to the bottom and select PlanH276 2nd Reading Engrossment HB 150).  It passed 92 -52 with 10 Republicans voting “Nay” and two Democrats for “Aye”.

This morning’s Statesman article points out that there are some issues with the map, while giving the impression that the Williamson County and Austin area House members are relatively happy with the map, Sharp lines drawn in redistricting map battle.

Some Republican members and activists say the proposed map would leave too many GOP members running against each other. But House leaders say they can only do so much given the constraints of federal voting laws and shifts in population away from conservative rural areas and toward suburbs that have seen explosive and diverse growth.

Democrats are demanding greater representation for Hispanic and African American residents to better reflect the makeup of the state. Census figures, the release of which triggers the redrawing of the legislative and congressional maps every 10 years, show that most of the growth in Texas has come in minority communities.

[...]

As far as the map that the House was debating, the implications for Travis County would be minimal, [Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin] said. Solomons had asked for input from Rodriguez and the Travis delegation in drawing the map earlier in the session.

“In Travis, we worked well together,” Rodriguez said.

The map would likely leave the county split among one Republican House member and five Democrats. District 47 in Southwest Travis County, held by Rep. Paul Workman, the delegation’s only Republican, would get a seat that is fairly safe for the GOP.

But not every Travis County member agreed with Rodriguez.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, has removed himself from the process. “I think we have an inherent conflict of interest, especially in this session with the budget crisis we face,” he said. The process has brought already substantial horse-trading, arguing and deal-making, Strama said.

Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said Solomons’ map will work just fine for him. His District 45 would span all of Hays and Blanco counties and lose Caldwell County.

Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said the House map is acceptable for him, too. He’ll get more rural and represent Burnet and Milam counties, part of rural Williamson County and Georgetown.

Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, also said he feels good about the map that he helped draw. The district he now lives in would include all of Round Rock, Taylor and Hutto.

Williamson County would get a third seat, anchored in Cedar Park. It would not include an incumbent.

No word yet on how these districts look in respect to Democratic and Republican voters. But it would seem likely that HD 20 is still a solid GOP district, and that HD 52 is now more GOP-favorable than it was. We’ll have to wait and see on the newly created HD 149.

Brains and Eggs has some good linkage on the new map, Texas House passes redistricting bill.  And the Texas Tribune has more, Texas House Gives Initial OK to Redistricting Plan. Finally the Abby Rapoport at the Texas Observer chronicles The Top Redistricting Fight Moments.

The Show and the cooling saucer

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, The Budget, The Lege at 10:40 am by wcnews

As many familiar with the history of the US Senate know it has been referred to as the “cooling saucer”  for legislation. Legislation thought too harsh, or too radical, would then be made more acceptable in the Senate. Here’s the oft-quoted exchange between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that refers to it:

There is a tradition that, on his return from France, Jefferson called Washington to account at the breakfast-table for having agreed to a second chamber. “Why,” asked Washington, “did you pour that coffee into your saucer?” “To cool it,” quoth Jefferson. “Even so,” said Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

It’s likely that our own state Senate here in Texas likes to think of themselves that way. As evidenced by these remarks from Sen. Steve Ogden, (R-Bryan), ‘Hostile’ groups delay budget’s passage.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee says outside, “hostile” groups are part of the reason he does not have the necessary number of votes to bring the budget bill up for debate. Following a Senate caucus meeting Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, discussed the hold-up.

“One of the strengths of the Senate is it was always tough to penetrate the club, but these outside groups have done it,” Ogden said. “It’s making it harder to pass a bill.”

[...]

“I think there’s people both on the right or the left who want to see the Senate fail,” said Ogden, who said he does not have unanimous support from either party in the chamber when it comes to votes. “If the Senate fails, it can advance their political agenda. I think both the right and the left can see some advantages in a Senate meltdown.”

It’s not about those on both sides wanting the Senate to fail. It’s about one side wanting the Senate, and the legislature, to do what it has always done in the past.  When we’ve had an economic downturn the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund, has always been used.  As it should be, that’s what it was created for. And the other side that wants draconian cuts that will hurt the poor, the needy (mentally ill and the elderly), along with working and middle class Texans the most.

Neither is the problem that the Senate is getting pressured, that always happens. It’s that the vast majority of the Senate knows exactly what needs to be done, it’s just that they’re not yet willing to take the political backlash from the right wing in order to do it. Today’s article from Jason Embry does a great job of explaining this, Dewhurst appears torn between activists and senators.

It says a great deal about the political state of our state that using some of the rainy day fund — billions of dollars that the government is going to collect regardless of whether it’s spent — has become so controversial.

The phenomenon is a recent one. When the 2003 Legislature faced a smaller budget shortfall and when the fund itself was much smaller, lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry spent almost all of it. In 2005, when the budget was on the upswing, they spent most of it again.

Dave McNeely in a recent column chronicled it even further, Political ambition, lack of courage evident in Austin.

Perry and the Legislature have used the Rainy Day Fund in past years.

*2003: Perry also insisted that a $10 billion shortfall be handled solely through spending cuts, without more taxes. The Legislature appropriated $1.3 billion from the fund.

*2005: $1.9 billion was spent from the fund.

*2007: The fund was not used; rapid economic growth was foreseen.

*2009: The fund also was not tapped, as the governor and Legislature used $16 billion in stimulus money to supplant general revenue to balance the state’s budget — even as the governor criticized the stimulus.

It’s been used the last four legislative sessions in a row! So what’s the big deal now? More from Embry:

How did spending this money become so objectionable? For one, our statewide elections are usually decided in the Republican Party primary, where being the most fiscally conservative candidate gives you a pretty good head start on victory. The person who sets the tone for that party is Perry, and as Perry has built himself into an anti-spending champion of the tea party over the past 2½ years, he has taken an increasingly hard stand against spending this money. Perry’s position has raised the visibility of the fund and sent a signal to the conservative grass roots that anyone who wants to spend that money over the next two years isn’t serious about shrinking government.

That’s right, a small contingent of ideological wackos are holding up the most logical  and sensible solution for solving our budget shortfall. Ogden’s cop-out, and an attempt to blame pressure from both sides is weak, at best. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t know the right thing to do is to spend most, if not all, of the RDF. Since he and the legislature have done this session after session.

The Senate, as the cooling saucer, is tasked with making the extremist budget in the House more humane.  Texans don’t won’t nursing homes closed, children to go without health care, teachers fired, and schools closed.  All of which will happen if the Perry/House budget is passed.  The Senate will likely do it’s job, it will just take a while longer.  The Show is, after all, about political cover.  And we’re likely still months away from a budget deal.

[UPDATE]: From KUT’s Ben Philpott via Twitter.

Sen. Ogden on Senate spending Rainy Day fund: “I know the right thing to do is to tap into the rainy day fund.”

Check out @BenPhilpottKUT he has a few other good Ogden quotes.

04.27.11

Rick Perry and lost faith

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, The Budget, The Lege at 9:37 am by wcnews

Gov. Rick Perry is again doing his best to change the meaning of the Economic Stabilization Fund, better know as the Rainy Day Fund, here’s the lie he told earlier in the year.

It’s one of the reasons, as we talk about this budget situation, a debate that rages on about our budget, one of the things that I remind people and why it’s so important to protect that Rainy Day Fund is that it is our insurance policy against a major natural disaster.

No! It’s th Economic Stabilization Fund, not the Disaster Insurance Fund. This quote by Perry was so bad that the so-called Politifact web site went so far as to call it “barely true“?!  For them and Perry that’s as close as they get to calling him a liar.

Here’s what Perry said yesterday, in an attempt to use the West Texas wildfires to his political advantage.

“If we had a major Category 5 storm that went into Corpus Christi or to Beaumont or to Houston, and we didn’t have those dollars to leverage against those losses, we would be bankrupt,” Perry said. “And I’m not willing to do that.”

Perry said he is “worried” about the depth of the proposed state budget reductions but described the cuts-only approach as preferable to depleting cash reserves.

[...]

Perry also sounded alarm bells about the cost of fighting wildfires over the last few weeks.

Wildfires have ravaged nearly 2 million acres in Texas, and Perry is requesting federal help to pay for the emergency response, officials said. Spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said that without the federal assistance, “we’re going to have to get pretty creative.”

She said the state has estimated the cost at $70 million. The state can pay 25 percent, or about $17.5 million, Cesinger added.

Perry wants Uncle Sam to pick up the rest of it.

Perry also says he has lost faith in the LBB because of their dire warnings on the GOP austerity budget that was passed in the House.

Meanwhile, Perry was also asked about state projections showing that the rainy-day fund would grow to as much as $12 billion by the end of 2013.

Perry said he has no faith in those numbers — or the nonpartisan agency that produced them. Perry said the Legislative Budget Board, composed mostly of GOP legislative leaders, is no longer trustworthy.

“I’ve lost so much faith in the LBB and their ability to estimate what’s going on,” Perry said. “We got some people who don’t know what they’re doing over there.”

We must remember that it was Gov. Perry during the campaign last year said he was confident in Sen. Steve Ogden’s numbers that we would only be facing a $10 billion shortfall this year. Turned out it was almost three times that. Talk about lost faith.

04.26.11

Republicans are cold, cruel, and irresponsible

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Taxes, The Budget, The Lege at 12:35 pm by wcnews

Republicans are cold and cruel and irresponsible.

- Alex Castellanos Republican political media consultant, on “Meet the Press” recently.

It’s time for those of us opposed to what the GOP is planning to do to Texas to speak up.  Texans must come to understand that Republicans in Texas are bound and determined to balance the budget in Texas on the backs of poor, working, and middle class Texans.  And those with much more than they need will not be asked to sacrifice, actually, they will be given more.

It was reported today that the wing nuts in Texas are running ads about how good things will be in Texas when only the middle class is gone, Limited-government group runs Austin ads urging “conservative” budget. Here’s the response from the CPPP.

F. Scott McCown of the Center for Public Policy Prioirities, which has urged a “balance approach” to the massive state budget shortfall that includes spending rainy-day money and increasing revenue (such as a temporary sales tax increase), said in response, “The ad campaign is premised on the idea that Texas has had amazing growth and yet argues that we shouldn’t fund the public services that brought people to Texas. And that’s crazy. And it argues that we shouldn’t increase public spending to account for all these new people. And that’s crazy. Public education’s a great example. You’re going to have roughly 80,000 new students a year, and you’ve got to have teachers and buildings for them, and nobody’s going to want to come to a Texas where your education system and your transportation system and your criminal justice system can’t meet the need for services.”

McCown added, “It’s really a campaign by radical conservatives against responsible conservatives. It’s not a campaign by conservatives against liberals. There are no liberals in the Texas Legislature. Basically, it’s an attempt to keep responsible conservatives from passing what’s already a bare-bones budget.”

That last part is key. The Republicans in Texas will own this budget, no matter which of the two evils is chosen. The irresponsible part comes because not preparing the next generation of Texans, through education, and the infrastructure of our state for what’s needed in the future, will mean less economic growth in the future.

Failing the invest in the future of Texas now, will hurt all Texans in the future. And that’s why the Republican budget in Texas in cold, cruel, and irresponsible.

Rep. John Carter voted to end Medicare, cut taxes on the rich

Posted in Around The Nation, Bad Government Republicans, District 31, Health Care, Taxes, The Budget at 9:10 am by wcnews

Last week Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) along with darn near every GOP member of the House voted to end Medicare while cutting taxes on the rich, again!  We added Carter’s name to the text of this ad that is currently running around the country. Significant New Progressive Ad Campaign Targets Republicans For Voting To End Medicare.

On April 15th, your Congressman John Carter voted to end Medicare and its guaranteed health care benefits. Instead, he wants to give seniors a voucher forcing them to go out and find coverage from private insurance companies.

The Non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates this proposal will increase senior’s out of pocket costs by $6,000 each year – and Congressman Carter is using the savings to give corporations and millionaires another tax break.

Congressman John Carter even voted to slash Medicaid funds that pay nursing home care for seniors and the disabled.

Call Congressman John Carter at (202) 225-3864. Tell him that cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to pay for tax cuts for corporations and millionaires is just wrong. Tell him to keep his hands off our Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Here’s the link to the vote.  This is obviously not what the American people want, Polls Show Dangers For GOP In Pushing Ryan’s Medicare Privatization Plan.

In essence, the Ryan plan calls for privatizing Medicare and capping payments in the form of vouchers as a way to reduce spending. On it’s face, the proposal garners tepid public support, particularly when presented as a necessity to reduce the deficit. However, when explained more fully, support for the Ryan plan evaporates.

The more we know the worse it gets. Not a single Democrat voted for this.

Here’s the video of a similar ad.

04.25.11

Texas Blog Round Up (April 25, 2011)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Uncategorized at 1:55 pm by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks it’s never too early to plan your Sine Die Day activities as it brings you this week’s roundup.

The long range plan to kill public education is reaching the end game. Over at TexasKaos lightseeker talks about seeing one of the (unintentional) moving parts at a public lecture given by one of the premier charter schools in the nation. Check out Educational Reform and Our Common Peril!

Bay Area Houston has the latest on State Representative Larry Taylor’s emergency surgery.

What conservatives believe to be true ranks far above what is actually true, and even what is demonstrably true according to science and mathematics. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs points out that this why Rick Perry declares Easter weekend as ‘Days of Prayer for Rain in Texas’, and why John Cornyn “isn’t so sure” that Jon Kyl was wrong when he claimed that abortions were 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget. It should consequently be no surprise that they place no value in teachers and education.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme thinks the Texas Supreme Court, aka the republican crony justice system, sucks.

Always looking out for your mental health and well-being, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters, Psychological Testing Department, offers a redistricting rorschach test.

The Senate Finance Committee lead by GOP Senator Steve Ogden approved their version of the Texas budget last week. WCNews at Eye On Williamson shows that it truly is the lesser of two evils.

How about a bit of good news for a change? Off the Kuff notes that a bill that gives microbreweries greater latitude in getting their beers to customers passed the House last week.

Neil at Texas Liberal praised Governor Perry for his call for prayer to end the severe drought in Texas. At the same time, Neil asked that if prayer can end the drought, might it be that Texas is being punished by God for hard-hearted policies towards the poor?

McBlogger take a looks back on one idea to bring more water to Texas that will work, and another that’s from Governor Perry.

Easter Lemming discovers Oh the places you will go as an iPhone, even if it is no longer your iPhone.

04.23.11

GOP infighting continues in Williamson County

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, County Attorney, Williamson County at 4:00 am by wcnews

The Statesman has the story on the latest chapter, Williamson County commissioners file grievances against county attorney.

Williamson County commissioners have blamed County Attorney Jana Duty in the county’s decision to pay $375,000 to settle a lawsuit involving sexual harassment allegations against a former County Court-at-Law judge, accusing Duty of misconduct in her handling of the case.

The accusation was part of a list of grievances that commissioners sent this week to the State Bar of Texas. Since January the commissioners have been filing grievances, alleging that Duty violated several Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern the action of lawyers.

Former Williamson County court reporter Kimberly Lee and former court secretary Sharon McGuyer sued Williamson County in November, claiming that former County Court-at-Law Judge Don

Higginbotham sexually harassed them and yelled at them during a three-month period in 2009.

The county settled the lawsuit in March.

Looks like no one wants to be be left holding the $375,000 political “hot potato” with an election year fast approaching.

04.21.11

The lesser of two evils

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Taxes, The Budget, The Lege at 4:36 pm by wcnews

The Senate Finance Committee passed out it’s version of the budget for the 2012 – 2013 biennium.  And it truly is the lesser of two evils, when compared to the Perry-backed budget the House passed. Here’s how Peggy Fikac describes the difference between the two chambers.

The Senate proposal — which would soften cuts to public schools, higher education and human services in the face of a massive revenue shortfall — is at least $14 billion more in all funds than a plan approved earlier by the House.

It would still fall $8.9 billion below the current level of state and federal spending.

Or as the CPPP statement puts it, “…no one should pretend that the Senate budget meets the needs of Texas“. At the beginning of the session we were a $27 billion short of what was needed to fund state government at current levels. $4 billion was made up from the RDF, and the Senate plan made up $14 billion, which leaves the shortfall at $9 billion.

The Republicans in the Senate think they’ve done us all a great big favor, Relative “Heriosm”: The Senate’s Plan to Cut Just $4 Billion from Schools.

You might have expected the mood to be awkward Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee. After all, the lawmakers were trying cut $4 billion from public schools in Texas and begin to fix a failed school finance system—that they’d created. The cuts will come to every school district in the state, including those that have spent the last five years scraping by on a fraction of what other, similar districts get. The bill wasn’t as drastic as the House version, where members cut $8 billion from school districts, but I expected most of the senators to be seriously concerned.

Instead, the mood was, at times, hesitatingly triumphant.

“People said we couldn’t do it but we have,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who oversaw the committee’s work on school funding and is carrying the bill.

“This is an heroic effort,” lauded Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Longview, who has spoken out against drastic cuts.

Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden took it a step further. “I think this bill has the potential of saving public education in Texas,” he told the members. “If we don’t pass the bill, I think public education as we know it is in big trouble.”

Our schools were already underfunded and now the we’re supposed to be happy that they’re only being cut by $4 billion and not $8 billion.  While the Economic Stabilization Fund, (Rainy Day Fund), has more than enough to make up the difference. Texas Fund Driven by Oil Rally May Reach $12 Billion by 2013, Senator Says.

Texas’s reserve fund may climb to 28 percent more than officially forecast by 2013 as energy prices rally, a gain that might help the second-most populous state avoid some spending cuts, a key senator said.

The fund, fed by energy taxes and forecast by the state comptroller to reach $9.4 billion by the end of August 2013, may gain much more by then, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican, said yesterday.

“That fund could easily rise to $12 billion,” Ogden said at a committee hearing. He based his estimate on revenue increases from taxes on oil and natural-gas production in the state as energy prices climb.

Crude oil futures have jumped 34 percent in the past year, touching $113.46 in New York on April 11, the highest level since September 2008. Ogden said he favors using $3 billion from the reserve to help cover general-fund spending to avoid some cuts in education and health-care services. The state faces a projected deficit of at least $15 billion in the budget for the fiscal biennium that begins in September.

Ogden’s estimate of the so-called rainy-day fund’s growth was supported by John O’Brien, executive director of the Legislative Budget Board. The nonpartisan research unit advises lawmakers on fiscal issues.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of speculation that if prices stay high, it might be $12 billion,” O’Brien said at the hearing. Natural-gas futures have risen 8.6 percent in the past year in New York trading.

Ogden is president of Ogden Resources in Bryan and has worked in oil and gas exploration for more than 20 years. He holds a master of business administration degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

All of that being said, the main problem for The Lege is that the two chambers are still billions apart and likely months from coming to an agreement.  As this post points out, Two Shortfalls.

Accordingly, there are two shortfalls in the budget. One is the necessary votes to suspend in the Senate so that it can be debated on the floor. The second is the $3 billion the Senate proposes to spend from the Rainy Day Fund, which the House and the Governor say they will not support.

Which is where we stand and probably will until the Summer. Of course we must keep in mind who is being asked to sacrifice and who isn’t. All the sacrifice must come from poor and working Texans, while the rich and corporations can’t be bothered.

That’s why this Texas Observer article on tea party freshman Connie Scott is so illuminating, (beyond the dearth of knowledge Scott had of the legislative process before becoming a representative), The Sheepish Revolutionary. Scott had no problem breaking a campaign promise to “not cut education funding” when it came down to it.

Both of these budgets are bad for Texas and Texans, and are what we get from eight plus years of GOP rule in Texas. Tax cuts and tax schemes have not produced the economic growth that was promised.  And the only way we will get Texas where it needs to be is by raising taxes on those with money, the rich and corporations.  Until that is done the best we can hope for is the lesser of two evils.

04.20.11

Here we go again – Texas Democrats search for a statewide candidate

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Commentary, Elections, Money In Politics, Take Action at 3:04 pm by wcnews

Toward the end of last week news broke that former General Ricardo Sanchez may be a candidate in the Democratic Primary in Texas for US Senate in 2012.  Part of the report is that he is being recruited by national Democrats (DSCC) and former Speaker of the Texas House, turned lobbyist, Ben Barnes. I don’t know much about Sanchez beyond the obvious, he’s another Democratic candidate in Texas with the Bush stain all over him.

The candidate selection process, or lack thereof, is the real problem that Democrats have been having for years, not necessarily the specific candidate. Every two years there’s a predictable process of trying to find a viable candidate who will run for statewide office.  Largely dictated by their potential to raise money first, and not their stance on the issues.  That usually means they must be amenable to the business community, the wealthy, and corporations first.  Which puts them at odds, to a significant degree, with the traditional Democratic base.

Since Democrats have done poorly statewide over the last 15 years, or so, it means the candidate pool to recruit from is pretty thin.  And, so far, there have been few candidates “bubbling-up” from municipal or legislative offices that can inspire enough Texans to vote for them in a statewide race.  Largely because of the perceived benchmarks a potential candidate must hit, financially speaking, before they can generate enough “buzz” to be taken seriously by the “Texas Village”, aka the traditional media and political class in Texas.

There is plenty of blame to go around in the Democratic community in Texas.  Many of us, myself included, have been waiting for someone else to do the work.  Well, if we don’t do it, no one else will.  Unless and until there is a decades-long plan put in place to rebuild the party, from the ground up, we will continue to have these “dream” candidates thrust upon us.

KT at Burnt Orange Report says it much better, The Texas Democratic Strategy: Winnability vs. Values.

I believe the initial debate over the potential of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s candidacy has to go deeper than arguments over his involvement and handling of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. In fact, I’d argue that we are having the wrong debate entirely. Every cycle since at least 2000 Democrats have focused around “Winnability” in the major nominees we have put forward as our top of the ticket standard-bearers, and look where that has gotten us.

2002: Tony Sanchez & Ron Kirk would build and fund a winnable rainbow coalition. Lost.
2006: Chris Bell would build a moderate winnable victory in a unique fractured general election. Lost.
2006: Barbara Radnofsky, a female mediator, would be able to make a reasoned dent in Hutchison’s personal popularity. Lost.
2008: Rick Noriega, a Hispanic soldier, was the ticket and would get the Hispanics that Tony Sanchez couldn’t. Lost.
2010: Bill White would win as a well-funded popular business-friendly mayor of Texas’ biggest city. Lost.
2012: Ricardo Sanchez, a economically conservative Hispanic general, will get the Hispanics that Noriega & Tony Sanchez couldn’t.

Are we seeing a pattern here? For the most part Democrats have spent the last decade focused on Winnability and received nothing in return but one heart-breaking loss after another. Yet year after year, our aging Democratic institutional and luminary leaders propose “the next sure thing” strategy of running relatively unoffensive moderate nominees with the “right demographics” and year after year we buy it- and lose.

Maybe it’s time to for Texas Democrats to stop searching for nominees based upon this model of “winnability” and instead, search for a nominee based upon our Party’s “values”.

How many more times are we going to ask the Democratic base of this state to trudge out to the polls and “get excited” by our winnable candidates? Seeing as our “winnable” strategy never wins, is there any harm in nominating someone with a strong Democratic identity who runs a campaign centered on our Democratic values? What if we sought out someone who’s more interested in running a multi-million dollar campaign focused on calling out Republicans for their failure of leadership and bankrupting of this state’s treasury and future rather than calling up Republicans to plead for their checks and votes?

(The post also has a great rundown of  what’s been said so far from several sources about Sanchez’s possible candidacy, so give it a click).

There is another part to this that is extremely complicated. Let’s start with a statement that’s been attributed to conservative pundit David Frum that will help explain this, Republicans are scared of their base, Democrats hate theirs. Which pretty much translates to, the GOP listens to their, and the Democrats ignore theirs.

But I have a little different take on it then that. Many of our elected leaders, in both parties answer to the same base – the wealthy and corporations who fund their campaigns. It’s just that the supposed GOP base, government-hating free-marketers, plays better to that base than the democratic base, which wants government to provide needed services to the people – like roads, health care, safe food, and Social Security to name a few. It’s an age-old story of money and politics.

It’s not that Democrats hate their base, it’s just that they can’t raise the needed money pandering to their base like the GOP can.  How can a Democrat run in the current campaign finance system as an advocate for the people, and be able to raise enough money to compete?  For a Democrat to run on a people’s platform, they are essentially running against the very interests they need to fund their election campaign.

In 1996, Stride Rite founder Arnold Hiatt tried to inspire then President Bill Clinton to make it a priority for the Democrats of that day. Hiatt was then the number-two largest contributor to Democratic candidates He was invited to a White House dinner with 30 other large funders so that the President could try to persuade them to help retire the Party’s 1996 campaign debt. Each guest was asked to give the President his or her advice for the next four years. Hiatt was the last to speak.

He began by evoking Franklin Roosevelt, whom Clinton, Hiatt knew, admired greatly. In 1939, Hiatt reminded the assembled funders, Roosevelt worked hard to convince a reluctant nation to enter a war to save democracy. This, Hiatt insisted, was just what Bill Clinton had to do again — to convince a reluctant nation to enter a war to save democracy. But this war would require no tanks or battleships. It would instead be the war to end private funding of public elections, to enact full funding for congressional elections, so that Americans would no longer believe as the vast majority even then believed that money buys results in Washington. It would be a war against interests that had corrupted the democratic process in America; a war against the very interest sitting in that room with Clinton.

When Hiatt finished, the room was silent. And the only published account of that evening reports a President impatient with his reformer-funder. Clinton, one guest that evening recounts, “effectively slashed Hiatt to pieces.” “The president put this guy down so unbelievably. He didn’t even do it graciously. He just took Arnold and phooom, like he would some junior aide who had made a really dumb mistake.” Hiatt doesn’t remember Clinton being that harsh, but he does recall feeling like a “skunk at a lawn party.”

Watch it in video form here, rootstrikers.org.

This will not and cannot be fixed overnight.  It  will take work and time, and really hard work over a long time, to fix this.  It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK!

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