05.31.11

Texas Blog Round Up

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 6:00 am by wcnews

Taking the day off from blogging, enjoy this week’s round up.

No matter what the Lege chooses to do, the Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for summer as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff suggests that maybe a Rick Perry Presidential campaign might not be such a bad thing after all.

The demise of the ‘sanctuary cities’ bill in the closing days of the Texas Legislature’s 82nd session represents a “strategic victory” for Rick Perry, according to Mark Jones at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs also notes, in other news, that a Blue Angels-like formation of flying pigs is circling the state capital.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know why Bill Gates is helping republicans destroy our public education system. Could it be all of that potential revenue from computerized curricula?

The Texas Ledge-The Gift That Keeps On Giving has sunk to a new low. refinish69 is stunned that the budget appropriation for the homeless situation in Texas has been cut to ZERO!!!

This week at Left of College Station, Teddy asks the question who is the Texas Public Policy Foundation? Then he takes a look at the power, influence, and money at work on the Board of Directors on the TPPF, and the man behind the so-called “breakthrough solutions,” Jeff Sandefer.

McBlogger takes a look at the compromises Speaker Straus had to make to the Teabaggers and their allies, compromises that will more than likely return Texas to recession.

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker has proposed a city budget that is balanaced on the backs of city workers and on citizens of Houston who are most in need of city services.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson has an update on What’s been happening in Williamson County.

05.30.11

Wendy Davis’ filibuster and a special session – good for Texas

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, The Lege at 11:31 am by wcnews

Nick Blakeslee at Texas Monthly asked this question about what state Sen. Wendy Davis’ heroic filibuster will mean going forward, Could it get worse?

After last night’s dramatic play by Senator Davis, the calculation this morning seems to be: Will the Dems fare better or worse in a special?

While Blakeslee goes on to do a good job of ticking on the short-term political implications, no one can be sure what this action will hold for Democrats and Republicans long-term. It’s been EOW’s contention all along that the longer the budget, and now school finance debate drags on, no matter the outcome, the better things will be for Democrats, and worse the will be for Republicans, in the long-term.

That Davis’ action irks Gov. Rick Perry, will make him follow through with his threats of retribution tactics along extreme ideological lines, and throw and childish tantrum, is just an added bonus.  Perry is scared of a special on school finance because of the potential for teacher protests, and what it might do to his political aspirations.  It’s gotten so bad that we’re hearing of more threats from Perry.  This time on Senate redistricting.  From QR:

As things are shaping up, the word is that the Senate may actually have 25 votes to suspend its rules and reconsider SB 1811 that went down on a filibuster yesterday. Perhaps Governor Perry’s eleventh hour threat to veto the Senate redistricting map crystallized thinking. With all Senators but Wendy Davis in incumbent friendly districts, a heavily partisan Legislative Redistricting Board redrawing the map is not an attractive prospect for either party.

But Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) says, “it won’t happen”.  The Democrats, at this point, have little else to do but stick together.  No matter the ultimate outcome they’re better off sticking together, and highlighting the GOP extremism, then splitting off and succumbing to GOP threats.

Apparently Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was “disappointed” that Davis used the only option left in the “tool box” to scuttle this horrible plan for Texas public schools.  Good, now he knows how many of us feel about his time as Lt. Gov.

Wendy Davis for her part had little to lose by filibustering.  The Senate GOP had already drawn her district so that she would be unable to get reelected.  As Kuff posted about the filibuster Hoo Boy.  And Davis cannot be thanked enough for what she has done.  Here’s a little of what she said late last night, Davis warns of job losses, over-crowded classes.

“I believe it is our duty to do better by Texas families,” the Fort Worth Democrat said during a brief press conference shortly after the Senate adjourned. “The priorities of hardworking Texas families have seemed to come dead-last during this session. Those in charge have asked us to make irresponsible choices and allowing special interests to preserve taxpayer-funded loopholes, while telling educators, kids and working families that we just can’t afford to educate Texans.”

Davis warned that cutting $4 billion from public education “will result in thousands of educator job losses, over-crowded classrooms, and it will put an end to our state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. “Throughout the state, school districts already are responding with massive layoffs and requests for the state to waive current restrictions on classroom sizes. Local property tax increases will certainly follow.”

Davis noted that “For the first time student population growth has not been funded. Our schools cannot ignore the thousands of new children that will be coming through their doors. . . .”

“This fight today, on this Senate floor, is about jobs,” she said. “The fight is about job-training, the fight is about preparing our children for college, trade school and a competitive work force.”

Davis said the cuts in school funding could be avoided by using at least $3 billion from the state’s rainy day fund, now at about $6 billion and closing corporate tax exemptions, worth about a billion dollars.

The GOP will now try and blame their failure this session on the Democrats. Well it ain’t so. The GOP has overwhelming majorities in both chambers and holds all statewide elected offices in the state.  They even went so far as to re-jigger the rules, and break decades of precedents in both chambers, just to get their extreme agenda this far. If they wanted they could have passed a budget and many other of their so-called “emergency” items months ago. But they decided to slow-play them so they would come down to the last minute. The reason for the last-minute “rush”, is that things can be sneaked through when and it is argued that there is no time for oversight.

So could things get worse?  They can always get worse.  But who knows, they could also get better.  The point is the GOP and Perry are now on the defensive and the agenda is no longer in their control.  And that is a good thing for Texas.

[UPDATE]: Patricia Kilday Hart in the HChron has this article today, Intraparty bickering defined session for GOP. In it GOP state Sen.’s Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) and  John Carona (R-Dallas) does a good job of explaining how we got to this point.

“At the beginning of the session, I said to everybody, ‘check your politics at the door.’ Well, nobody did. I might as well have said the moon is made of green cheese,” said State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “This was the most ideological session I have ever seen.”

[...]

Carona noted that the “emergency” items given priority by Gov. Rick Perry – eminent domain, pre-abortion sonograms, sanctuary cities, anti-lawsuit legislation, voter ID – forced the Legislature to abandon more important work. All of those, he noted, were backed by conservative organizations.

“One could hardly argue that we’ve taken the state’s many challenges in order of priority this session. We’ve concentrated instead on what the governor declared emergency items.”

Arguably the most important issue of the session, school finance was put off until the last minute, he noted.

He blamed “scorecards” issued by some groups that rate lawmakers’ records. “Every group has a scorecard, whether it’s Eagle Forum, Heritage Alliance or Empower Texans. All of those scorecards do a bit of an injustice,” Carona said. “The problem is the answer to these issues is rarely black and white.”

05.29.11

Budget bill passed, school finance today

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Education, Public Schools, The Budget, The Lege at 2:53 pm by wcnews

Kuff has two posts up on yesterday’s action (budget) and what is to come today (school finance).

In each chamber, for whatever reason, only one Democrat voted of the budget – Hinojosa in the Senate, and Eiland in the Hosue. Also in the House five Republicans voted against it, Budget passes. Check it out he’s got statement’s from several.

And Vote on school finance today.

I can’t wait for the 2012 campaigns to start noting that this Republican or that voted to cut billions of dollars from public schools. Remember, the House and every Republican in it originally voted to cut $8 billion from public education, so whatever cuts they end up approving for their own schools, they were prepared to approve cuts twice as big. Oh, yeah, I’m ready for this to quit being a legislative issue and start being a campaign issue. Have fun voting on your cuts, Republicans. School Zone.

And this from Texas AFT, Next Up: School-Finance Bill That Cuts $4 Billion from State Aid, District by District–Call Your Legislators.

One more big budget battle awaits Texas lawmakers when they reconvene at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 29, the next-to-last day of the 2011 regular session. The viability of the budget they passed Saturday hinges on passage of one more bill, SB 1811, which contains the school-finance mechanism needed to enforce the cuts of $4 billion in state aid, district by district.

On Saturday, rank-and-file legislators received the district-by-district spreadsheets (known in the capitol as “district runs”) that show how the damage caused by the deep cuts in the 2012-2013 budget will be distributed. The true depth of the cuts is obscured in these district runs for fiscal 2012 by the inclusion of federal Education Jobs Act money that districts already have received in fiscal 2011. Because the money can be used through September 30, 2012, the budget writers are maintaining the pretense that all this federal money will be on hand to help make up for the cuts in state aid for the first year of the 2012-2013 budget cycle. That pretense means the spreadsheets understate the percentage cut in state aid that districts will experience next school year.

Texas AFT has computed the correct percentages, though, and we find that the average cut in state aid for school districts in the coming school year will be 5.5 percent, not the 3.3 percent displayed in the budget writers’ official district runs.

For the second year of the biennium (school year 2012-2013) the budget writers concede that cuts in state aid will average 5.6 percent—and there will be no federal funding available to mask that impact. In that second year, moreover, cuts for several major urban districts, including Houston, Dallas, and Austin ISDs, will soar above 8 percent.

Texas AFT strongly opposes this SB 1811 enforcement mechanism for the deep cuts in HB 1, considering the two bills part of the same bad package deal. We encourage you to let your state senators and state reps know that the right vote on SB 1811 is a NO vote. It is vital that you make your call immediately. To find who represents you and your legislators’ capitol phone numbers, click here:http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

EOW’s stance is that this is too important to be dealt with using a shoddy compromise cobbled together at the end of session just to avoid a special session. It would be best if legislators took a month off, listened to their constituents, education experts, and school finance experts and then put a much better school finance plan in place then this ideological scheme.   Especially since they’re likely coming back for a special session anyway. But that would be the wise thing to so it is unlikely to happen.

05.28.11

The so-called public school finance deal is actually an extreme ideological scheme

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Education, Public Schools, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, Teachers, The Budget, The Lege at 1:04 pm by wcnews

([UPDATE]: Here’s an excellent report on the budget from the Legislative Study Group.)

[UPDATE 2]: Here’s the recently released information from House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, SB 1811 Summary,  with so-called ISD runs – how this bill will effect each school district in Texas.

It appears the GOP has struck a deal on a school finance scheme to avert a special session, for that issue at least, (see, Special session on TWIA is likely, legislative leaders say).  If passed, the scheme will likely cause Texans heartburn for years, if not decades.  Here’s how Richard Whittaker at the Austin Chronicle described yesterday’s last minute deal, School Finance Agreement? Maybe.

Talk about down-to-the-wire. The drop-dead deadline was, according to Calendars Committee Chair Charlie Geren, 5pm. Then House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, upgraded that to 5.30pm. Truth was, the House and Senate conference committee appointees were still stuck in a meeting in the lieutenant governor’s room. After a few appearances and a lot of fussing, they finally emerged to say yes, they believe they have a deal they can get to the printers before the 9pm calendar cut-off.

What is on offer is a weird hodge-podge of the Senate version (which the House hated) and the House version (which the Senate hated.) The details are still to be made publicly available, but the quick boil down is half of one, half of the other. Rather than a true hybrid, this is a chimera: It basically takes the 6% across-the-board cut from the House for the 2011-12 school year, then shifts to the funding formula revisions from the Senate for 2012-13.

[...]

If either the House or Senate says no, then the bill goes down and the legislature is back in the Summer to fix it (importantly, they will already almost definitely be back anyway for Texas Windstorm Insurance Association reform, which died a death already.)

The perils are many. Neither the House nor the Senate has ever actually passed their own school finance proposals, so the first question will be about what exactly the conference committee is compromising on. There are also many reps, especially in poor and rural districts, that are terrified about how badly the ISDs in their districts will get hit. The Democrats are furious because, for all the claims that they would be involved in the negotiations, keeping the Rainy Day Fund off the table sidelined their biggest demand. Then there are the real questions about how where the system would go in 2013, especially since every school district’s baseline funding will be lower than ever in that second year.

Yeah, don’t forget that: This is all just about the Legislature cutting its responsibilities and obligations to schools. That could be enough to get the GOP on-board. As Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said when asked whether it would pass, he said, “Yup. 100 to 49.” [Emphasis added]

And, as Gallego alludes to, the GOP, even the tea party freshman have been voting like lemmings all session long, will likely fall in line and do what the bosses tell them. There’s absolutely no reason for any Democrat to vote for this plan. So this plan will live or die with the GOP. Here’s more on this deal from the SAEN, Vote set Sunday on school funding.

Although leaders reached an agreement on school funding, individual lawmakers will have to assess the impact of the funding cuts on the school districts they represent before ratifying the plan.

Most if not all 49 House Democrats are expected to oppose the plan to cut funding to public education — especially when use of the state’s rainy day fund could have avoided those cuts.
“I would be very surprised if any Democrat supports the school finance proposal to cut $4 billion from Texas public education,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio. “We see it as a betrayal of the state’s priorities. We see it as going backwards and think it’s bad public policy.”

Without Democrats, House Republicans would need 76 of their 101 members to support the agreement.

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, one of the House negotiators, said: “I think we can sell this.”
This will be the first budget in contemporary Texas history that fails to pay for student enrollment growth — about 180,000 additional children over the next two years.

School budget cuts are likely to cause loud howls from an assortment of Texans.

State Board of Education member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth, expressed outrage Friday when she learned the overall state budget includes an $8 million appropriation to fund the Teach For America program.

“How can we in good faith tell teachers all across the state of Texas that they are losing their jobs because of the budget shortfall and we’re willing to spend $8 million in the biennium on a program such as Teach For America, which brings in people from outside of the state to teach in Texas,” she said. “It has been obviously supported by people in high places who have vested interests in seeing this program carried out at the expense of our homegrown teachers.”

It’s key for everyone to understand that this is not a deal born out of what is best for Texas, especailly it’s public education system, students and teachers. This is a political deal born out of what the GOP thinks a narrow strip of ideological extremists in their party will allow. No one else, even many regular Republicans, think this scheme makes sense or will do anything other then hurt public education in Texas.  Nevertheless is will likely pass.

More on how bad this will be for Texas from Texas AFT, Planning to Fail—Reported School-Finance Deal at the Expense of Texas Students and Teachers.

Legislative leaders report an agreement has been reached on how to make an unprecedented cut of $4 billion in the flow of state aid to Texas school districts. Details are still sketchy, but reportedly all school districts, rich and poor alike, would suffer a cut in the neighborhood of 6 percent for fiscal 2012. In fiscal 2013, the Senate’s preferred option supposedly would take effect, distributing the cuts a bit more equitably, so that the least wealthy districts would suffer smaller cuts, but major urban districts with high concentrations of high-need students would take a bigger hit. (An additional $1 billion plus would be chopped from discretionary grants for programs like full-day pre-k and the Student Success Initiative for pupils at risk of failing high-stakes state tests.)

At this writing, we don’t know what else is in the package deal on school finance. We know some lawmakers have been pressing to include authorization for school districts to enforce pay cuts, breach their contractual commitments to teachers, and bust class-size limits in the early elementary grades. The full House and Senate still must approve the plan this weekend. Information on the crucial district-by-district impact of the cuts is unavailable so far.

However lawmakers try to slice the $4 billion in reduced state formula aid, this school-finance deal will mark a shameful retreat from the state’s commitment to the education of Texas schoolchildren. With a sharply reduced budget for public education, the state is explicitly planning for schools to fail. Just look at the so-called “performance measures” that are included in the state budget. These are the state’s targets for what our schools are expected to accomplish with their reduced state aid over the next two years. The budget bill, HB 1, projects that the percentage of campuses meeting the federal “adequate yearly progress” standard will drop to 61 percent by fiscal 2013 from the current level of 85 percent. The performance target for graduation rates is expected to rise a paltry one-tenth of 1 percent from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013, to 81.1 percent. At that pace, it would take our schools 90 years to bring the graduation rate up to 90 percent.

As the Austin American-Statesman recently editorialized, “The educational impact is what we should all worry about. Shortchanging children who don’t vote and don’t donate to campaigns might seem to be a path of least resistance, but it’s a path that fails to prepare Texas students for a 21st century marketplace. Gutting public school will hobble the state’s efforts to compete in a global economy.”

This proposal deserves a resounding “NO” vote from the full House and Senate, where a decision is expected on the underlying budget bill (HB 1) on Saturday and on the linked school-finance component (embedded in SB 1811) on Sunday. Rep. Scott Hochberg, Democrat of Houston, put it well, as quoted in the Houston Chronicle: “It’s unbelievable that we would lay off teachers, increase class sizes, cut Pre-K programs and hurt our schools across the board while there is more than enough money sitting in the rainy day fund to avoid the cuts completely.”

We expect to have much more to report to you on Saturday regarding this shameful deal to betray the state’s commitment to schoolchildren. Please keep reading your e-mails and be prepared to act over this Memorial Day weekend, as state leaders and their lieutenants try to pass a budget and school-finance plan that set up our students and schools for failure

It’s also key to remember that this is just public education part of the Texas GOP’s austerity budget. There are many more areas of our state’s budget that are being starved and strangled, higher education and health care, just to name a couple. As the session ends and the slow move to the next election begins, we cannot continue to allow our political system in Texas to be held hostage by the extremists on the ideological right.

05.27.11

“Yeah, I think so”

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Education, Public Schools, Take Action, Taxes, Teachers, The Budget, The Lege at 12:07 pm by wcnews

That was Texas Governor Rick Perry’s response to a question asked about not cutting education funding during an interview by KERA’s Shelley Kofler in September 2010.

Shelley Kofler: Public Education is a very big part of our budget. Can you assure the educators of this state that public school spending will not be cut in the next session.

Rick Perry: Yeah, I think so. Uhm..I go back to 2003, it’s a priority. Our state’s still growing. Uhm..As a matter of fact we put $1.8 billion more into public education in the 2003 legislative session for the…for the following biennum [sic], then we had the previous biennum [sic]. This is the same time we were cutting $10 billion out of our budget and spending…reducing spending. (Chuckles) And uhm..so..uhm..Education is a priority.

When a politician breaks an assurance given during a campaign these days is doesn’t draw much concern. But this one, to use Perry’s words, is a priority.  It’s doubtful, that even in Texas in 2010, the GOP would have done as well as it did had they campaigned on this budget.  Perry went so far as to imply – when he said “still growing”, “$1.8 billion more into public education” – that not only would education spending not be cut, but it might even be increased.  What a fabulous liar, and the media and far too many voters bought it.

Now that reality has set in, (Texas Progressive Alliance shows over 12,000 jobs already lost in only 60 school districts), educators, administrators, and all Texans, since we all rely on public education, should never take an election so lightly again.  Because the consequences are severe, as state Rep. Garnet Coleman points out, Does the budget balance?

It is our understanding, based on testimony made during the conference committee meeting and from news reports, that the state budget could be in violation of our state constitution. The budget relies on many accounting tricks. According to statements made by the  Legislative Budget Board, it does not fund $4.8 billion in general revenue for Medicaid. Those are dollars that go to pay for our grandparents in nursing homes and our children who need health care. More information on the cuts to Medicaid can be found in the CPPP briefing: “State Budget Conference Committee Medicaid Decisions: Cuts, IOUs, and Gray Area.

Overall, the accounting tricks in the budget include:

  • $4.8 billion in unfunded general revenue for Medicaid
  • $1.8 to $2.2 billion in public education deferrals, depending on the outcome of school finance legislation
  • $700 million in waivers that are unlikely to be granted for maintenance of effort requirements in health care
  • Using GR-Dedicated funds for general revenue
  • Using 1-time payments that only leave holes in our next budget
  • No answer to the $10 billion structural deficit created in 2006

With so many accounting tricks and by refusing to fully fund our schools and our nursing homes, we can expect that state agencies — as they were in this biennium — will be asked in twelve months to make additional cuts. It is important to know that the budget that we vote on in the final days of session is hardly the final budget for the 2012-2013 biennium. Without fully identifying how we expect to pay for the costs to our state, serious questions should be raised about whether or not this budget fulfills our constitutional obligation to balance the budget.

The truly sad part about this is that it doesn’t need to happen. Beside using the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka Rainy Day Fund, many simple, fair, and easy ways around this were ignored.

Going forward those of us opposed to these types of austerity measures must start organizing and working to fix what is obviously wrong with our state’s mismanaged fiscal situation. Because the next budget cycle, when these accounting tricks will have to be paid for, is likely to be just as bad if not worse, The Next Budget Crisis.

Take a look at the state’s books and you will find a permanent deficit that runs about $5 billion a year. This is the result of a poorly designed scheme in 2006 to swap a property-tax reduction for a business tax that doesn’t generate enough money. Everyone at the Capitol knows about this mess. But no one has the guts—or the sense of responsibility—to deal with it. As a result, the structural deficit has now become as much a part of state government as the Capitol’s pink granite. In 2013—for the fourth session in a row—the state will start its budget process in a $10 billion hole at a minimum.

Then there are the accounting tricks. To balance the 2012-2013 budget without more revenue, lawmakers used every budget gimmick a dishonest accountant could think off. For instance, the budget proposals delay billions in payments to schools and Medicaid providers until the next biennium and count that as “savings” now. The state will have to pay those bills eventually, probably with a multi-billion-dollar emergency spending plan in 2013.

Too many of us have  become too uncritical in our thinking, which is deadly for democracy, to see what is really causing our problems. Inequality caused by an unequal system. Raising taxes sometimes is the answer, especially when certain income levels have been getting away without paying their fair share for so long. That is why a proposal like this must be part of any real solution going forward, (Tip to Texas Forward).

As Texas lawmakers struggle to balance the state’s books by cutting public education, health and human services and other popular programs, a new study says there is a simpler and far less painful way to turn deficits into surpluses.

The study released today suggests flipping the state tax structures so that the wealthiest pay the rates low-income wage earners are now paying, and vice versa. That would immediately wipe out Texas’ $27 billion budget shortfall, according to report author Karen Kraut, an analyst with United for a Fair Economy, who says Texas has the nation’s fifth most regressive tax structure.

“The top 20 percent of taxpayers pay 4.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, whereas the lowest-income taxpayers pay 12.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes.”

Reversing those figures, she says, would raise $72 billion for state coffers. It would require a state income tax, which Kraut acknowledges would be a hard sell politically. However, she thinks Texans would warm to the idea if they learned it would be accompanied by big reductions in property taxes.

The sweetheart deal the rich and corporations have been getting in Texas has to come to an end. The lesson of 2010 should be that we must all be more engaged in the political process and informed about the issues if we truly want anything to change.

Further Reading:
Lean times ahead in Texas.
In Texas, a Businesslike Budget, After a Fashion.

05.26.11

As the budget turns….

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Education, Public Schools, The Budget, The Lege, Uncategorized at 2:40 pm by wcnews

The “big” news today, we’re told, is that the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee has agreed on a final number, Negotiators approve $172.3 billion, two-year budget.

A House-Senate conference committee on Thursday morning approved a $172.3 billion, two-year budget that leaders said amounts to an 8-percent reduction in spending of state and federal funds.

Chief negotiators Sen. Steve Ogden and Rep. Jim Pitts said a provision negotiated late Wednesday could force a special session — by not giving any money to the main state aid program for public schools, unless the two chambers can agree on changes to the existing school formulas this weekend. The session ends Monday.

“We’ve still got a pretty good chance of getting this last major issue resolved,” said Ogden, R-Bryan (right).

But Ogden acknowledged a stalemate on the formulas is very possible. Asked if Gov. Rick Perry has threatened to veto the entire education section of the budget, as he did in 2005, Ogden replied, “He may not have to veto it. We may do it for him — if we don’t get a school bill out.”

[...]

Turner said schools would take too big a hit, that class sizes will increase and that lawmakers used so many accounting tricks, the budget can’t honestly be “certified” as balanced. Rep. Garnet Coleman, another Houston Democrat and veteran budget writer, has written Comptroller Susan Combs suggesting she can’t possibly put her imprimatur on a budget. Coleman noted that it would kick $4.8 billion in Medicaid costs to next session and delay the state’s August 2013 payment of state school aid by a few days, bumping into the next budget cycle.

But Pitts, R-Waxahachie, disagrees.

“We’ve worked with the comptroller,” he said. “She’ll certify this.”

In other words, the “fix” is in. Combs has enough problems, and can’t afford to make more enemies in her own party, by not playing along with this budget scheme. Here is State Rep. Garnet Coleman’s letter to Combs challenging the constitutionality of the budget.

That there isn’t  an agreement on public school finance we’ve known for a while. What the sticking point has been, and still is, is whether the GOP will be able to quickly come up with a “new” public school finance scheme.  And whether the scheme will horrible, or just bad.  To get up to speed on what plans are being discussed and where this all might end up Abby Rapoport has a great piece in the Texas Observer, The School Finance Battle: A Step-By-Step Guide. She first describes the Senate plan put forth by Florence Shapiro.

The Senate committee called it a “share the pain model.” Every district in the state gets cut somewhat in the plan, but those with more money get cut more. Of the $4 billion in cuts, the first $1 billion comes from about a 1.5 percent cut to all school districts. The other $3 billion comes from districts on target revenue. But districts only get cut until they’re receiving the amount they would get under the formulas. The wealthiest districts can get cut up to 8 or 9 percent under the plan—but they’ll still be getting more than everyone else. Thanks to an amendment from Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the bill does require that the target revenue system end by 2017.

Before transitioning the the House plan, put forth by Rep. Rob Eissler, Rapaport writes this.

At the time she introduced it, many of the poorest districts were upset they were getting cut at all. After all, districts on formula funding barely have enough money as it is. Then they saw the Eissler plan…

Here’s a little about the Eissler plan, “which has never been publicly debated”.

On its face, there’s not a whole lot to his plan: it simply cuts six percent of funding from each school district each year. Sounds fair, right?

The problem is, thanks to a seriously flawed system, school districts are currently receiving vastly unequal amounts of funding. While some are barely scraping by, others do quite well for themselves. Taking six percent of funds away will mean very different things to different districts. It’s like telling a family surviving on $40,000 a year and a family with $120,000 that they’ll both lose six percent of their income. The family with $40,000 will struggle dramatically, while the richer family will not. While the plan cuts the same percentage from all districts, it inflicts unequal amounts of pain.

To sell his approach, Eissler also rankled senators when he included one-time federal money from the Edujobs program in his projections of school losses. The Edujobs money—over $800 million—has already been gone out to districts. The Legislature had no say over it. But Eissler nonethless added in the extra funds in his projections showing the impact of his plan on districts. He included a column that showed what percent of funding school districts would lose under his plan—including the federal funds. Not surprisingly, it made his numbers look a lot better than Shapiro’s. (Shapiro soon got new runs that also included the Edujobs money as well, so there could at least be an apples-to-apples comparison.)

Furthermore, the plan does nothing to actually address the structural flaws in the school finance system. By taking the same percentage from everyone, Eissler’s plan maintains wide funding disparities between districts. Some might argue they make them worse by taking the some level of cut from haves and the have-nots.

She finishes by talking about the “possible deals”.

With time ticking, negotiators continue to meet behind closed doors. While this is one of the most important decisions of the session, the decisions will be made away from public view. But speculation runs rampant on the deals. Among the most prominent rumors:

– Paul Burka reported Tuesday night that the compromise would cut $2 billion from all districts and $2 billion from just target revenue districts.

– Lawmakers could decide to implement the six percent cuts for two years, while putting in provisions to reduce target revenue over time.

While initially the gossip was that negotiators would choose between the plans, it seems likely now that the final plan will be a combination of both Eissler’s and Shapiro’s offers.

The lawmakers don’t have much time to make a decision—senators will soon be within the range to filibuster bills they don’t like. But whatever decision they do make, the public won’t see it until it’s a done deal. In the meantime, we can all sit around and discuss the wisdom of cutting $4 billion from our schools, no matter how it gets sliced.

At this point it’s best that The Lege does as little as possible before the end of this session. Especially when it comes to school finance. They could really do more harm than good. If, as Rapoport says, “the House never really got active on school finance until recently”, then it’s best a House plan isn’t passed.

Because of Texas’ antiquated legislative system, of meeting only 6 months every two years, we will be stuck with whatever shoddily planned school finance scheme the GOP comes up with for far too long. With so many novices, especially in the House, it would probably be best if they went home for a month and heard from their constituents, and studied up on the issue, and then came back and implemented, hopefully a more sensible plan.

While many fear a special session, they are not always a bad thing. While there may be a political and a financial cost on the front end, taking the time needed to study an issue as complicated as this, and getting it right would save everyone in the long run. Even though it may not fit into everyone’s immediate post-session plans.

Further Reading.
CPPP statement on the budget.
State Rep. Mike Villarreal’s (D-San Anotonio) statement on the budget, State Budget Agreement Bad News for Students, Seniors and Women.

Bradley’s tenure at Forensic Science Commission about to end

Posted in District Attorney, Williamson County at 9:36 am by wcnews

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley will be back to having one job soon, Bradley out as TX forensics panel head.

The embattled chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission will be out of the job next week.

The state Senate Nominations Committee has ended its work this session without voting on John Bradley’s appointment. His term will end when the Legislative session concludes Monday.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, to lead the commission in 2009, just days before it was to hear a critical report of the original investigation of arson evidence in a death row case.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004. Critics have said new science standards suggest the blaze that killed his children was not arson and that he was wrongly executed.

Bradley slowed down the panel’s work and pushed members to find no misconduct by fire investigators.

 

Bradley’s work at the Forensic Science Commission was so toxic that he couldn’t get confirmed in a Texas Senate with a massive GOP majority. Now that Bradley will no longer be working at there, he’s free to concentrate on his reelection campaign and this federal lawsuit. Sure would be nice to see a Democratic challenger in 2012 so he is at least made to answer for some of his mistakes and ideological stances.

Here’s EOW post from when Perry first appointed Bradley, Perry makes crony appointment of Williamson County DA to  Forensic board.

05.25.11

The GOP Lege and school finance – will the result be bad or horrible?

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Public Schools, The Budget, The Lege at 1:14 pm by wcnews

The only thing, we’re being told, holding up a budget deal between competing GOP factions in the Lege is a compromise on school finance.  That has a familiar ring to it.  As I told someone yesterday, any school finance plan they come up with in a Special Session will be bad, and any plan they come up with in the next several days will be horrible.

During the session, in fits and starts, State Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) has at times tried to be the voice of reason. But he’s usually lapsed backed into ideology and pandering.  Ogden and likely many other Republicans in the legislature know they should, and would like to, use the ESF for it’s constitutional use – stabilizing the economy.  Here’s the latest from Ogden, Senate leader warns against House’s quick fix on school aid.

House leaders are leaning toward a temporary fix — called proration — that shaves 6 percent off the top for every school district for the next two years. But in 2013, school funding would return to its current level unless some other changes were made.

“It buys us some time,” said House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands . He said lawmakers would take the next two years to formulate a long-term fix.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan , said such an approach would add to the state’s budget troubles come 2013.

“It is a colossal mistake to underfund Medicaid at the level we’re doing and then not change the (school finance) statutes so that instead of having one big hole in two years, we have two big holes,” Ogden said.

The 2012-13 budget agreed to by House and Senate negotiators does not cover $4.8 billion in projected Medicaid costs. That tab will need to be paid in 2013 when the next Legislature convenes.

Failure to restructure the school finance formulas today would pile billions more on top of that amount in 2013.

“We will really be in serious trouble in this state,” Ogden said. “We can’t kick the can down the road on both Medicaid and school finance at the same time.”

Both chambers have struggled this session to find common ground on school finance, a stubbornly difficult issue that has been complicated by the state’s gaping budget shortfall.

As Kuff pointed out, last night was supposed to be the night for the deal, and we still don’t have one.

Tonight’s the night for something to happen if it’s going to, because legislatively speaking there is no tomorrow.

Check out this simple video about how we got into this mess in the first place, (Tip top PoliTex).

It’s kind of sad how Ogden is winding up this session. He obviously knows what is being done in public school finance and Medicare is wrong. But he won’t, as he said in his speech the first day of session, “Check your political considerations and your political ambitions at the door”.

It’s pretty damn disingenuous, not to mention cold, cruel and irresponsible what the Texas GOP is proposing. There’s an ESF that was meant to be spent for things just like this, in times exactly like this, and they won’t use it because of ideology. Instead they’re willing to make Texans suffer unnecessarily.

Further Reading:
The devastating layoffs that shook our lives.
Deal on cutting school funds elusive.

What’s been happening in Williamson County

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, County Attorney, County Judge, Precinct 1, Precinct 2, Precinct 3, Precinct 4, Williamson County at 10:35 am by wcnews

While the budget and more pressing economic issues in Texas and the nation have kept us busy lately, we’ve neglected what’s been going on locally here in Williamson County. With two freshman state Representatives and a state Senator that’s from Bryan, Williamson County has played a much smaller role this legislative session then in the recent past.  Below is a little bit of what’s been going on.

Earlier in the session during Texas House redistricting Williamson County found out that they would, as thought, get a third House district. The first attempt at a drawing that new district was ridiculous. After Williamson County Democratic Chair Brian Hamon’s testimony at the next hearing the districts in Williamson County were drawn in a more rational manner.

Of course a third district in Williamson County means there’s an open seat for 2012.  And certainly many will see it as an opportunity to move up the political ladder. The first opportunist appears to be Precinct 2 County Commissioner Cynthia Long. Via Mcblogger, Fight Club (Williamson County Edition).

There’s a ridiculous little fight brewing up in WilCo that should come to head Tuesday evening. On one side, we have Georgetown Councilmember Pat Berryman and on the other we have Georgetown’s Mayor, George Garver. Normally, in a fight between two Republicans, I’d prefer to sit back and just watch the bloodsport from a distance that would guarantee no blood on my shoes. However, in this case I can’t do that because

1) I have a bunch of friends in Georgetown
2) Berryman is really acting as a stand in

It’s number 2 that really irritates me because Pat is really just a sockpuppet of teabagger WilCo Commissioner Cynthia Long, the same one who has taken money over the years from the developers who’ve been trying to get something going near 183/620. The fight began a few years ago with a simple request to have a bridge over 35 in north Georgetown (the Lakeway Bridge) rebuilt with money available to CAMPO through ARRA (the so-called Federal stimulus bill). This particular bridge is, I can tell you, a terrible piece of public infrastructure on which there has been at least 6 fatal accidents. Mayor Garver put the bridge on the agenda and Cynthia Long, who was serving as Vice Chair of CAMPO in 2009 made a few strategic moves and got that particular bridge project pulled even though it was shovel ready.

The two County Commissioners that are likely running for reelection appear to be trying to burnish their tea party credentials by taking on so-called government waste in the Hot Check Department of the County Attorney’s Office. Yes, the same County Attorney that filed suit to remove the County Judge earlier this year. And after winning reelection the Precinct 4 Commissioner has gone back to sleep.

And last, but not least, the WCGOP is re-drawing the Commissioner/JP/Constable Precincts in Williamson County, County officials to redraw precincts.

Redistricting can bring with it a long list of concerns and complications.

The county’s redistricting committee, which was formed in early 2011, said its goals for the process are: to balance populations at close to 25 percent; limit splitting of government lines; preserve existing precincts as much as possible; keep elected officials in their precinct; create geographically compact precincts; and use major roads and natural features as boundary lines.

“We’re trying not to change things more than necessary or without reason,” Semple said. “We’re not going to be able to do all these things.”

The committee includes commissioners Birkman, Precinct 1, and Valerie Covey, Precinct 3, along with Semple, other county staff and legal representatives.

“There’s a lot of complications. That’s why it takes so long to get a map,” Birkman said. “It most likely won’t be a straight taking from one precinct and giving to another … because that ignores [communities of interest].”

The county is seeking public comment on redistricting, and everyone is encouraged to participate. The current proposed map can be view at, www.wilco.org/redistricting.

05.24.11

It’s time to stop hunting for a bipartisan compromise

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, The Economy at 11:16 am by wcnews

There is no bipartisan compromise that can fix our economy.  There will be bipartisan plans that are put forward and one may even pass, but they will not fix the economy.  WE HAVE A REVENUE PROBLEM!! And until that is fixed the economy won’t be fixed.

What will fix the economy is higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, getting our of Iraq and Afghanistan, and massive spending on infrastructure to put people back to work.  And there is no way in hell that Republicans will agree to that. Here’s the updated chart on the causes of our deficit, (Tip to The American Prospect).

This is not rocket science. As anyone can see the Bush tax cuts, two wars, and the economic downturn/joblessness are the main drivers of our current deficit. Therefore ending all of those is the way to fix the deficit.

Notice the GOP reaction when they are called out for being the cause of the deficits, Hoyer Reads GOP The Riot Act For Creating Enormous U.S. Debt.

In a Monday speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Hoyer said both parties are responsible for addressing the country’s unsustainable fiscal trajectory. But he insisted on reminding Republicans that they did far more than Democrats to create the debt, and in so doing, he prompted one famous audience member to attempt to rebut the claims extemporaneously.

“It is not tenable for us to hold ransom the creditworthiness of the United States,” Hoyer said, adding that the GOP’s negotiating posture “ignores that some of their own policies helped get us where we are today.”

From there he recited the three decade history of the current debt most of which is the result of GOP policies.

“Republicans made the contradictory promises that cutting taxes would lead to higher revenues and would force lower spending,” Hoyer said. “They did neither.”

Those predictions were clearly, demonstrably wrong. They failed to learn from those facts, however. The next time they were in power, the Republicans were again pushing deep tax cuts as a fiscal and economic cure-all….President Bush’s policies eliminated the entire Clinton surplus.

Those policies — large tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, unpaid for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and an unfunded prescription drug benefit for seniors — explain the source of the country’s structural deficits, which were exacerbated by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

These policies combined with the economic collapse that took place under President Bush’s watch starting in December ’07 are still the greatest drivers of our deficit.Why else would some falsely insist that their agenda — cuts to Medicare and other programs for the most vulnerable, and tax cuts for the wealthy — are the only possible answer to our debt?

This prompted former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), who’s co-authored an influential fiscal reform paper, to defend his party.

“I would close it by saying you do a great job of making it appear that it is the Republican Party that is responsible for the debt,” he said. “It’s not correct to say that Democrats are not a big part of the debt problem of the United States.”

Domenici is right. Too many, not all, Democrats have, unfortunately, over the last several decades bought into the false supply-side “starve the beast” economic doctrine of the GOP. It’s long past time for it to stop.

There are real people, hurting really bad, and it’s time to end this folly of seeking a non-existent bipartisan fix for our economic problems. 99ers and the Long-term Unemployed Are the Elephants in the Economic Recovery Room, (Tip to Crooks and Liars).

The April 2011 BLS employment report showed a gain of 244,000 jobs, which was trumpeted by the Obama administration and the mainstream media as a continuation of a rapidly improving jobs market. While job growth is important, it’s also important to realize the jobs hole that needs to be filled. Over the past four months more than 800,000 jobs have been created, but in January 2009 alone, more than 800,000 jobs were lost. Since February 2010,1.8 million jobs have been created, but 8.8 million jobs were lost prior to that period. That’s a job shortage of 7 million and that doesn’t include the 125,000 jobs each month that needed to be created to simply absorb new entrants into the workforce.

Additionally, the unemployment rate increased to 9%, since more people began looking for work. Returning job seekers is often considered an improved sign of job availability, but if they aren’t hired, they will go back into hiding and the unemployment rate will decline. Because of returning job seekers, the number of officially unemployed increased 205,000 to 13.75 million, which is still historically high when compared to other jobs challenged times.

One of the few honest assessments of the current jobs market was offered by Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute:

At this point, coming out of a recession this deep, we should be getting unambiguously huge growth, of 300,000 to 400,000 [new jobs] a month,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “And it’s just nowhere near that.” She concluded: “We’re still in a rocky place.”

The job market is admittedly improving for some, but it’s not improving quickly enough for millions of jobless, especially the long-term unemployed. In April, the ranks of the unemployed who have been out of work for 99 weeks or more increased by 21,000 to a record 1,920,000. That equates to 14.5% of all unemployed.

Unless and until a party, or a movement, implements something along the lines of The People’s Budget our economic woes will likely continue.

Further Reading:
Charlatans and Cranks.

� Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »