07.30.11

Diversions & Austerity – the Texas GOP two-step

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Right Wing Lies, The Budget, The Economy, The Lege at 2:43 pm by wcnews

Tow articles on the economic shenanigans of the GOP in Texas. Another diversion/budget trick of the GOP led Texas Lege, Texas holds on to millions of dollars intended to help poor residents with electric bills.

Texas is hoarding millions of dollars intended to help hundreds of thousands of elderly and impoverished residents pay their electric bills to survive the summer heat.

As Texas suffers through one of the most menacing heat waves in its history, the state this fiscal year has collected $130 million designated to help offset the spike in electrical use but has provided only $28 million thus far to those in need. Without the help, many Texans forgo air conditioning and risk their health.

Even with more people and more need, Texas is spending half as much as it did nearly a decade ago to help the poor and elderly survive summer. The reason: State lawmakers locked away the money to help eliminate their budget shortfall.

[...]

The program, called LITE-UP Texas, began after electrical markets were deregulated in 1999.

In 2004, the state changed eligibility requirements, causing more than half of the almost 800,000 customers who had enrolled for assistance to be cut off. The state continued to collect the fee but kept more of the money to balance the budget.

[...]

Lawmakers have all but cut out spending from this pot of money on “customer education,” which was to include both awareness of the discounts and how to navigate the deregulated electricity market.

In fiscal 2002, the state spent $12 million on customer education, which paid for TV ads. But for at least the last five years, it has spent $750,000 a year, which mostly goes for a website to help educate consumers.

By the end of the next two-year budget cycle, Texas will be sitting on nearly $1 billion of unspent funds intended for utility bill discounts.

In a report released this week, state Auditor John Keel tiptoed around the huge sum. Keel criticized the Public Utility Commission for not analyzing how much fee revenue is needed  as its own rules require  when it sets the rate each year.

But the commission said the Legislature essentially dictates that the highest rate allowed be collected.

Chief Senate budget writer Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the only alternative to holding dedicated funds would have been to cut more out of education, public safety and other key programs.

“The utilities got the Legislature to say that in order to assist low-income Texans, let’s make our ratepayers pay for it,” said Ogden, who calls the benefit assessment “a rip-off” deserving of repeal.

That’s rich from Sen. Ogden. They can’t raise taxes on the wealthy or corporations. But they can steal money from the poor and elderly, that’s supposed to be used to pay their electricity during the hot Summer months. That’s the real “rip off” Senator!

Also another great column from Mitchell Schnurman at the FWST, In construction, public spending picks up slack in private sector. It shows how public spending has been keeping our economy from depression, but if cut off, could make our economy much worse.

For all the complaints about government spending and the national debt, realize this: It has helped keep a big chunk of the construction business afloat, even in fiscally conservative Texas.

Look around Dallas-Fort Worth today, and most of the big construction projects were awarded by the public sector and financed with public debt. That often happens in the wake of a deep recession because private businesses pull back while city, state and federal governments continue to invest for the long term.

Those trends have been exaggerated in the past five years after residential real estate hit record highs and then collapsed. Office and retail construction fell just as sharply, at least in North Texas. Today, precious few cranes can be seen on the landscape.

Meanwhile, construction spending has doubled for highways, bridges, sewage systems and the like, helped in part by federal stimulus funds. Schools and colleges have remained one of the strongest categories through the recession and shaky recovery. And hospitals have been an important growth sector.

Consider the big deals that have made local headlines: $2.1 billion for the North Tarrant Express highway project, $1.9 billion to renovate terminals at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, $1 billion for the DFW Connector, almost $1.3 million for Parkland Hospital in Dallas, $800 million for a new hospital at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Dallas Love Field is doing a $519 million renovation. The University of Texas at Arlington spent $126 million on an engineering building that opened this year, and construction is under way on its $78 million College Park Center.

“I’d hate to think about where we’d be without these public projects,” said Raleigh Roussell, president of TEXO, an industry association that represents commercial contractors in 62 counties in North Texas.

[...]

In Texas, construction spending in the private sector fell 13 percent from 2008 to 2010, while public construction grew 14 percent, said Bob Rundgren, manager of quality data for Reed. The most growth was in civil construction, which includes roads and bridges.

Data on North Texas compiled by McGraw-Hill reveal more details. There have been steep drops in construction of stores, restaurants, hotels and warehouses. The big-volume contracts — and dollars — came from school districts, cities and public hospitals over the past two years.

What happens when that spigot gets turned down? Many giant projects, especially the highway expansions, were years in the making and will continue to lift the economy for a while. But the politics and economics in Washington, Austin and city halls dictate a retreat.

Budget cuts are coming to almost every part of government, and officials risk a backlash if they borrow too much. Some contraction is already evident.

State and local spending on education fell by 28 percent nationwide, or $25 billion, since the peak, the Census Bureau said. North Texas is projected to show a similar decline in education construction, and it has a fast-growing population.

On Friday, new GDP numbers showed that the U.S. economy slowed to a crawl in the first half of the year. Among the reasons analysts cited were the wind-down of the federal stimulus last year and a sharp reduction in spending by states and cities in 2011.

For almost two years, some vocal critics have been calling for government to shrink and let the private sector take over. That’s coming soon enough, for better or worse.

Diversions and austerity, making the economy worse for poor, working, and middle class Texans.

Further Reading:
SAO report, An Audit Report on the System Benefit Fund and the Low-Income Electric Discount Program at the Public Utility Commission.

07.29.11

Friday Good Reads

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, The Budget, The Economy at 9:02 am by wcnews

Two takes on a recent editorial from Texas Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford.  Greg is mostly in agreement.  But Mean Rachel has the best take, The Definition of Insanity.

Being more like the Republican Party will not convince anyone — Democrat or Republican — to vote for Democrats. No doubt about it, Texas is a big state, with big beliefs and big differences. It’s time for us to talk about them, not hide behind them. If you can’t differentiate yourself, then what exactly are you planning on bringing to the table? “Vote for me — I’m like the other guy!” is not a legitimate campaign message. While I may be a myopic Austinite, I know there are a lot of people out there in Texas unaccounted for when it comes to their impetus for voting (or not). The Democratic party in Texas needs to refocus and redefine what it is that makes us different from Republicans instead of constantly trying to pretend like we are the same.

We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. There’s just more of the same down that losing road and I’m certainly not going to stand around while we back off on all of the issues that could stand to strengthen us. Accepting conservative ideology isn’t the diversification of a party. It’s the desertion of one.

On the myth of a Texas miracle, The Secret of Rick Perry’s Texas Jobs Miracle? Government Jobs.

Paul Krugman on The Centrist Cop-Out.

Which brings me to those “centrist” fantasies.

Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

But for those who insist that the center is always the place to be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a centrist president. Indeed, Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in practice a moderate conservative.

Mr. Bartlett has a point. The president, as we’ve seen, was willing, even eager, to strike a budget deal that strongly favored conservative priorities. His health reform was very similar to the reform Mitt Romney installed in Massachusetts. Romneycare, in turn, closely followed the outlines of a plan originally proposed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. And returning tax rates on high-income Americans to their level during the Roaring Nineties is hardly a socialist proposal.

True, Republicans insist that Mr. Obama is a leftist seeking a government takeover of the economy, but they would, wouldn’t they? The facts, should anyone choose to report them, say otherwise.

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

07.27.11

Debt ceiling & starve the beast. Light posting this week – vacation

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, The Lege, Williamson County at 10:28 am by wcnews

Here are a few items to check out this week.

Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, Ryan, etc…all voted for the policiies taht created our current debt – tax cuts, wars, and corporate welfare (TARP).  Via Bloomberg, Republican Leaders Voted for Debt Drivers They Blame on Obama.

House Speaker John Boehner often attacks the spendthrift ways of Washington.

“In Washington, more spending and more debt is business as usual,” the Republican leader from Ohio said in a televised address yesterday amid debate over the U.S. debt. “I’ve got news for Washington – those days are over.”

Yet the speaker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all voted for major drivers of the nation’s debt during the past decade: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that rescued financial institutions and the auto industry.

Together, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News, these initiatives added $3.4 trillion to the nation’s accumulated debt and to its current annual budget deficit of $1.5 trillion.

That’s the GOP’s “starve the beast” plan in a nutshell. Drive up deficits so high, with tax cuts for the rich and war spending, that the only thing left to do is bring pain on poor, working and middle class Americans.

The WCGOP has approved their redsitrcting plan for Williamson County. Check out the maps here.

Also a couple of interesting post on the possible state Senate and House vacancies for 2012.

And the CPPP on what The Lege did to health care in the 82nd legislature, A Mix of Cuts, IOUs, “Efficiencies” and Gray Areas.

The 82 nd Legislature’s state budget for 2012-13 includes Medicaid-CHIP provisions with a mix of specific direct cuts and spending reductions totaling $2.03 billion general revenue (GR: state dollars) including $805 million GR in cuts to fees paid to Medicaid service providers; other benefit and spending cuts totaling about $843 million GR; managed care expansion savings of nearly $386 million GR; and roughly $4.8 billion GR in under-funding—an IOU that will come due early in 2013.

This Policy Page summarizes high-level Medicaid-CHIP decisions adopted for health and human services agencies; key funding developments for non-Medicaid health programs will be featured in an upcoming August analysis.

07.25.11

Texas Blog Round Up (July 25, 2011)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 10:16 pm by wcnews

The thoughts and prayers of the Texas Progressive Alliance are with the people of Norway as we bring you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff has an update on redistricting litigation that’s being filed.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the Lt. Gov.’s latest move, Dewhurst announces for Senate, commits to gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

A couple of Republican bloggers thought they were breaking news with murmurings of a Texas Senate Demoratic primary challenge by Sylvia Garcia to Mario Gallegos. By the end of the day the senator, the former county commissioner, and their shared political consultant shot the rumor down in flames. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs reminds you why you just shouldn’t believe anything posted on conservative blogs.

Lightseeker takes a shot at connecting some sad dots in Republican Lies, their connection to our looming Doctor Shortage and Corporate Power. It turns out that making public policy by using the repeated Big Lie will come back to bite you in the ass after all.

Neil at Texas Liberal has begun to read Rick Perry’s book Fed Up! Neil is finding this great work to be very enjoyable so far.

At WhosPlayin, Regina responds to all those forwarded emails, and gives a dozen good reasons why she can’t support Rick Perry for President.

07.22.11

On the end of the space shuttle program, NIMBY, and “big gument”

Posted in Around The Nation, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, The Budget at 9:13 am by wcnews

When the space shuttle landed this week it marked the end of NASA’s shuttle program. Here is a great write-up on the end of the program, So Long Shuttle.

As vividly as I remember the moon landing, I also remember a couple of shuttle explosions. These events terrified the public and would always put the space program at risk. Truth be known, no astronaut would want their death to cause America to end space exploration. We would plough through Congressional hearings and public outrage and then get the program back on track.

Space funding and research have contributed so much to our society that we don’t even value. From cordless tools to freeze-dried foods to advances in medicine, the actions of our space program have made all lives better. Click here to read more about NASA’s contributions.

This week has actually been tough on me. It’s not that I’m married to the shuttle program, per se. In fact, I thought it had outlived its purpose. It is that there is nothing on the horizon. When will we go back into space? How will scientific advances continue? Will we fall behind other countries? We have absolutely dominated space research and advances. Without some change, we will default our leadership to other parts of the world.

Not to worry though, there are only a few thousand rocket scientists out of work. I hope they are up for adventure because I’m sure they will be learning about global opportunities soon enough.

Alas, dear shuttle, you have brought great joy to our lives and gut-wrenching sadness. Most of all, you have contributed to a functioning space station and helped advance science beyond our imaginations. Thank you.

And thank you to all the dedicated NASA employees. May you find a way to continue to apply your brilliance.

But we can surely leave it to a calculating politician with a Texas twang, who has been railing against “big gument” for years, to try and use this to his advantage.

The governor (and potential presidential candidate) also accused the Obama administration of leading “federal agencies and programs astray, this time forcing NASA away from its original purpose of space exploration, and ignoring its groundbreaking past and enormous future potential.”

The Shuttle Atlantis landed before dawn at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, marking the final flight of NASA’s space shuttle program. The crew returned from a 13-day trip after successfully delivering supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station. though Americans will continue to live on the station, they will have to rely upon Russian spacecrafts and private companies for future transportation.

Perry also noted that about 4,000 contract positions with Houston’s Johnson Space Center will be lost due to the end of the program. (He did not mention that the end of the shuttle program was set into motion during the presidential administration of his predecessor as Texas governor, George W. Bush.) [Emphasis added]

From this it seems like Perry is against “big gument” and pro-privatization as long as it only hurts the poor, workers, and the middle class in the form of public education, public health. But when he’s thinking of running for higher office and the “big gument” that’s being ended is in his backyard (NIMBY) he doesn’t really have a problem with it.

More from Greg, This Should Be An Easy Spending Cut. Right?

National Journal: We Love the Final Frontier: Even devoted GOP budget-cutters want to keep spending billions on human spaceflight. (Reid Wilson)

Just a reminder: the next GOP member of Congress that you find willing to slash funding for space exploration will be the first. And yes, I’m still counting the late William Proxmire as the first Dem willing to do so.

I would love to see NASA and space flight continue. I would also like to see education fully funded and Medicare for all. But that would mean the wealthy and corporations would have to pay their fair share of taxes and we know we can’t have that.

07.21.11

Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane – Conviction without responsibility…is raving mad

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, jobs, Money In Politics, Taxes, The Budget, The Economy at 1:28 pm by wcnews

There are many problems with our politics, that are highlighted by the phony debt ceiling crisis that the the Washington D.C. beltway, aka The Village, is caught up in currently.  As they struggle with how to fix this phony crisis most Americans are instead struggling with how to find a job, keep a job, or just make ends meet.

Which brings us to this must read and frank, assessment of the current economic situation in the US, Empty Wallets. (An excerpt).

In Washington, President Barack Obama and Congress are engaged in high-drama brinksmanship, like members of an ordnance-disposal unit arguing about how to defuse a huge ticking bomb. Obama, securely in character, called on all sides to rise above petty politics, acknowledged the practical realities of divided government, and proposed a grand compromise that would lower the deficit by four trillion dollars. According to the Times’ Nate Silver, Obama’s offer, in its roughly four-to-one balance between spending cuts and revenue increases, falls to the right of the average American voter’s preference; in fact, it may outflank the views of the average Republican. Among other drastic cuts to domestic spending, the President proposes a ten-year, hundred-billion-dollar reduction in federal contributions to Medicaid, a program that helped provide new sets of teeth for Danny Hartzell and his wife just before their move.

The Republicans are also securely in character. They’ve rejected everything that the President has proposed, because Obama’s deal includes tax increases and the closing of loopholes for hedge-fund managers and corporate jets and companies that move offshore. Ninety-seven per cent of House Republicans have taken something called the “No Tax Pledge.” Some Republicans have also proposed that any deal require Obama to repeal the country’s new health-care law, which, had it been in place last year, would have provided the Hartzells with medical insurance, instead of forcing them to rely on charity hospitals for their daughter’s cancer treatment. Representative Paul Ryan’s ten-year budget plan, which remains his party’s blueprint for the future, would impose a fifty-per-cent cut on programs like food stamps and Supplemental Security Income, which, as long as Danny Hartzell remains jobless, represent the Hartzells’ only income. By the last day of June, the Hartzells had twenty-nine dollars to their name. The Republicans in Congress won’t be satisfied until the family is out on the street.

The sociologist Max Weber, in his 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation,” drew a distinction between “the ethic of responsibility” and “the ethic of ultimate ends”—between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences. These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two. On its own, the ethic of responsibility can become a devotion to technically correct procedure, while the ethic of ultimate ends can become fanaticism. Weber’s terms perfectly capture the toxic dynamic between the President, who takes responsibility as an end in itself, and the Republicans in Congress, who are destructively consumed with their own dogma. Neither side can be said to possess what Weber calls a “leader’s personality.” Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane. Conviction without responsibility, in the current incarnation of the Republican Party, is raving mad. [Emphasis added]

Representative Austin Scott, from the Hartzells’ new state of Georgia, is the president of the House Republicans’ freshman class. Last week, Scott, addressing the possibility that the United States might default on its debt, offered this blithe assessment: “I certainly think you will see some short-term volatility. In the end, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.” It was Lenin who first said, “The worse, the better,” a mantra adopted by elements of the New Left in the nineteen-sixties. This nihilistic idea animates a large number of Republican officeholders. The battle over the debt ceiling is a contest between grown-up sobriety and juvenile righteousness, which doesn’t leave much choice.

Nor does it leave much hope. President Obama, responsibly acceding to the reality of divided government, is now the leading champion of fiscal austerity, and his proposals contain very little in the way of job creation. More important, he no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the country focussed on the continued need for government activism. His opponents’ approach to job creation is that of a cargo cult—just keep repeating “tax cuts”—even though the economic evidence of the past three decades refutes such magical thinking. What does either side have to offer the tens of millions of Americans who have settled into a semi-permanent state of economic depression? Virtually nothing. But if responsibility were fused with conviction—if politics were a vocation in Washington today—the Hartzells would be represented at the negotiating table. [Emphasis added]

This comes to mind because poll after poll of the people in this country, shows numbers like this – POLL: BY 58-16 MARGIN, AMERICANS MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE ECONOMY AND JOBS THAN DEFICIT. Or this, Poll: 59% Of Americans Support Repealing Fossil-Energy Subsidies To Reduce Deficit.

Poor, working, and middle class Americans know that they’ve been getting the economic shaft for going on 40 years. They agree on how to fix the economy – end the Bush Tax cuts, end the wars and put Americans back to work. The unanswered question is why don’t the “the Villagers” – the traditional media and politicians – understand that. It’s because they feel less and less concerned, every day, about what the people in this country care about.

It’s because our politicians major concern is raising money for the next campaign. And those who donate to their campaigns are the ones that are concerned about the deficit, ending the Bush Tax Cuts, ending wars, and don’t want Americans getting their jobs back.

This will help explain:

07.20.11

A Few Items

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Elections, Williamson County at 3:26 pm by wcnews

Changes coming to local elections, WilCo leaders discuss effects of Senate Bill 100 on local elections.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court considered possible effects of Senate Bill 100, passed by the 82nd state Legislature, at its July 19 meeting. The bill brings Texas into compliance with the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, adding more time between March primaries and April runoffs to allow enough time for ballots to reach overseas and military voters.

SB100 requires ballots be mailed 45 days before elections. For primary elections, which are held on even-numbered years, any runoff elections would have to be moved back. For example, in 2012, the primary election will be held March 6. If there is a runoff, it would be held on May 22. That puts early voting for the runoff two days after the May uniform election day, which would be May 12.

[..]

SB 100 allows entities to change election dates and the terms of elected officials if necessary. Home rule cities with two- or four-year staggered terms have four options if they currently use a May uniform election date. First, the city may un-stagger to hold elections for all city elected officials in odd-numbered years, when the election would not conflict with primaries. Another option would be to move to a November uniform date, which would allow for a joint election with the county each November. Option three would be to buy or lease voting machines—each polling place must have at least one voting machine to comply with federal election law—and conduct its own election. The final option would be to still conduct the May uniform election through the county, or have the county provide machines to the cities to conduct their own elections.

Texas public education funding is heading back to court, School lawsuit likely to focus on equity, adequacy and more.

The school funding lawsuit that educators and their lawyers are preparing this summer will likely involve school funding equity, adequate funding and school facilities.

The equity issue will probably be the hardest for the state to defend. Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, made the case late in the legislative session when he cited the vast funding disparity between the top and lowest funding school district in each of the 31 senatorial districts.

Adequate funding is a more difficult issue. What is adequate?

Cutting $4 billion from public education despite a projected enrollment increase of 170,000 students over the next two years will hurt the state’s defense that current spending levels are adequate, Northside ISD Superintendent John Folks says.

[..]

State leaders often cite the multi-billion increase public education spending today compared to public education spending a decade ago. That is accurate. But left unsaid is the fact that Texas has 873,998 more students in public schools today than it did 10 years ago. The enrollment increase would cost about $7 billion extra – not including schools and classrooms to accommodate them.

Also, the number of children from low income families has increased by 913,000 over that same time period. Low income children are more expensive to educate. That factor is not mentioned in conjunction with spending increases for public education over the years.

Lisa Falkenberg points out Perry’s hypocrisies over the years, Perry’s act as crafted as his hair.

he latest breathless dispatch from the Rick Perry presidential watch beat is that the governor told the Des Moines Register he’s getting “more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do.”

Now, if Perry really believes he’s being called, I won’t blame the Lord, whom Perry has falsely accused before. Recall that unfortunate Gulf oil spill that Perry famously blamed on “an act of God.”

And there’s always a chance the governor didn’t hear quite right. It could have been a bad connection, like the time Perry prayed for rain and we got the worst drought since the 1950s.

That being said, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Perry would suddenly become “more comfortable” with the idea of leading a country he once flirted with seceding from.

If our governor is consistent about anything (other than good hair days) it’s his penchant for changing his mind. Call it flip-flopping. Call it hypocrisy. But nobody does it better than our Perry.

It is, for me, the single most irritating thing about Texas’ longest serving governor. But it’s also one of his best weapons. While other candidates may be bound by silly, old-fashioned things like truth, and principle and vertebrae, Perry — the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Tea Party Darlin’ – is free to be whoever he needs to be in any given polling period.

He’s an anti-government crusader who’s a career politician who’s collected a government paycheck for nearly 20 years.

He’s a fiscal conservative who called on lawmakers to make up a budget shortfall in the tens of billions by living within our means. Yet, he’s charging taxpayers $10,000 a month for a 6,386-square-foot rental mansion in the West Austin hills with seven baths and $1,000 Neiman Marcus window coverings.

There are so many similarities between Perry and former Texas Senator Phil Gramm. They both used to be Democrats, and Perry like Gramm lived off the “gument teet” for much of their lives, then became free-market freaks. Perry, though, is missing one Gramm trait. As Molly Ivins said about Gramm, “He’s got a face for radio and a voice for print”. Pretty boy Perry and his hair, aren’t weighed-down, in that respect, as Gramm was.

Dewhurst announces for Senate, commits to gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Posted in 2012 Primary, Around The Nation, Around The State, Had Enough Yet?, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, The Budget, The Economy, US Senate Race at 1:35 pm by wcnews

Here’s part of what GOP Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst had to say yesterday when he announced he was running for US Senate.

Now there’s one issue we need to discuss right now. The current debate in Washington over raising our debt limit. Washington is addicted to debt. It’s maxed-out all of our credit cards, and it’s asking for more with no strings attached. And I’m not gonna go along with that. This past session we passed out of the legislature a resolution requiring Congress to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. And my first act as a candidate for the Senate I’m going to sign the Cut, Cap, and Balance pledge. Committing to vote to cut federal spending, cap the growth of government, and support a strong balanced budget amendment to our constitution. It’s conservative, it’s common sense, and it’s in keeping with the way we’ve been governing our great state of Texas. Because what we really need to do is run the federal government like we run Texas.

There’s a whole lot of non-sense in there.  And there’s also a whole lot of market tested BS, that “sounds good”, but will in reality only do what it is that Republicans do  – enrich themselves and their wealthy/corporate donors, and bring a whole lot of pain to poor, working, and middle class Americans.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst wants to inflict on our nation what he, Gov. Rick Perry, and his party have already inflicted on Texas.  Anyone not familiar with what they have done should read this, Texas on the Brink.

In Texas today, the American dream is distant. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children in the nation. Texas is dead last in the percentage of residents with their high school diploma and near last in SAT scores. Texas has America’s dirtiest air. If we do not change course, for the first time in our history, the Texas generation of tomorrow will be less prosperous than the generation of today.

Without the courage to invest in the minds of our children and steadfast support for great schools, we face a daunting prospect. Those who value tax cuts over children and budget cuts over college have put Texas at risk in her ability to compete and succeed.

That was written in February 2011. Those numbers, as bad as they are, are only going to get worse because of the budget that Dewhurst helped pass this session. He doesn’t mind because his taxes and those of his wealthy/corporate donors will not go up. The only thing that will rise is the pain of poor, working, and middle class Texans.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated, Balanced Budget Amendment is a backward step, the GOP scheme that Dewhurst has signed onto will also hurt Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

[A balanced budget] amendment would impose arbitrary, reckless budget caps that would – without a doubt – force massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other crucial benefits. At the same time, it would constitutionally protect wasteful loopholes and tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. [Emphasis added]

To meet an arbitrary spending cap frozen at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product, it would shrink benefits and services back to levels not seen since 1966. In 1966, Medicare was one year old and there were 100 million fewer people in this country.

For those who think rewinding 45 years is a good thing, consider how much America has changed since 1966. For example, life expectancy is 9 years longer today than it was 45 years ago.

Medicare has allowed Americans to live longer, healthier lives. This legislation would roll back that progress.

And it would enshrine in the Constitution a set of priorities so backward, even Republican advisors to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have called it unwise.

In the first decade alone, it would mean more than $3,000 a year in cuts to each senior’s Social Security check. It would slash our social safety net, decimating Medicaid and cutting Medicare benefits by $2,500 for every senior.

In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that within 25 years, it will slash government benefits and services in half. That includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and every other government service, no matter how essential.

Yet it would make it almost impossible to end even the most wasteful tax breaks and loopholes already in place, such as handouts to oil companies making record profits, corporations that ship jobs overseas, and rich people who buy yachts or and private jets. It would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to raise even a penny of new revenue.

The sad part is many Texans, who normally vote for Republicans and in the GOP primary, will not see this as the phony political ploy that it is.

As we’ve noted before, a balanced budget amendment would force the government to make economic downturns worse, by slashing spending when the economy needs support. Under a balanced budget amendment, the radical House Republican budget authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would be unconstitutional, as it doesn’t cut spending fast enough.

Bill Hoagland, a budget adviser to Republican leaders from 1982 to 2007, called the amendment “a political cheap shot,” while Scott Galupo, a former staffer for Boeher, has called the idea “quite simply, insane.”

Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, noted that the amendment is a phony solution to the budget mess that allows Republicans to support a balanced budget while not having to “support anything politically unpopular.” Indeed, as the Republicans quoted above make clear, they really have no idea how they’d balance the budget; they just want it to magically balance itself.

But as we all know in Texas right now, if a candidate wants to win the GOP Primary, the more insane the better. This is just one more thing that highlights how the politics and the economic debate, in our state and nation, have been turned upside down. At this point it’s hard to see how things get turned right-side up again without a total economic meltdown.

The problem with our economy is not that deficits are too high.  The reality is that the federal government, during an economic downturn, should be spending more putting people to work, creating demand.  Just listen to the economists, Dearth of Demand Seen Behind Weak Hiring.

The main reason US companies are reluctant to step up hiring was scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies, according to a majority of economists in a new survey published Monday in the Wall Street Journal.

“There is no demand,” Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics said. “Businesses aren’t confident enough, and the longer this goes on the harder it is to convince them that they should be.”

Here’s a simple explanation of what is currently happening with our economy. People can’t buy stuff if they don’t have jobs. Businesses won’t hire until people start buying stuff. That means the only way to get money to people to buy things, so businesses will hire, is for the government to do it. By paying people to fix our crumbling infrastructure, teach our children, protect our cities and counties, etc..

But passing another phony GOP scheme, by bringing Texas austerity to the federal government, and gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, like Dewhurst wants to, is only going to make our economy much worse.

Further Reading:
Starving the Beast: Cut, Cap and Balance.
Republican ‘Cut, Cap, And Balance’ Plan Would Require A 25 Percent Cut In Every Government Program.
Now What?! House Passes DOA ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’ Bill — Now About That Debt Limit…

07.19.11

Jobs picture not a rosy as it seems in Texas

Posted in Around The State, jobs, The Economy, Unemployment at 12:10 pm by wcnews

Krugman on Texas jobs and Rick Perry, Texas Tales.

Wages in Texas are low, and have probably fallen relative to those in slower-growth states. On the other hand, the cost of living is low, largely thanks to cheap housing. What we don’t see is either the productivity surge or the wage surge we would have expected if the Goodhair model was at all right. As Ryan Avent points out, Texas real GDP per capita has actually grown very slowly.

One more thing: how should we think about Texan performance in the recession and weak recovery? Well, I’d say that we should measure that performance around the trend – a trend that reflects the forces described by models I and II. Of course Texas has faster job growth than the rest of the country; it always does. The question is whether relative to that trend the state has done remarkably well. And it hasn’t: the unemployment rate in Texas is slightly above the rate in New York.

While Texas is creating more jobs than the rest of the country, most are not good paying jobs. And the unemployment rate will likely continue rising as the budget cuts start to set in after the fiscal year starts in September. Via Kuff, Does Perry get any credit?, check out this AAS article, Should Perry get credit for Texas economy?

Economists disagree on how much credit Perry deserves for the state’s recovery, but they agree his economic policies are a continuation of a long-standing Texas tradition.

“As for our reputation as a low-tax, low-service state, that’s always been true, ever since the Republic,” said James Galbraith, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “Gov. Perry did not inherit a high-tax, high-service state and transform it.”

Galbraith said other economic factors, not Perry, are driving the Texas economy: “He has no influence that I’m aware of over geology, the oil price, immigration or capital inflow.”

On the other hand, Roger Meiners, economics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, credits Perry for pressuring the Legislature to keep taxes and spending low while continuing a business-friendly environment.

“Overall, Gov. Perry has done a solid job,” Meiners said. “How that relates to possible presidential ability is less clear.”

Meiners said Perry did not inherit the “terrible” problems other states’ governors faced during the recession: “He had a stronger base to build on and has not had to promote ‘radical’ changes in policies as some other governors have done.”

There’s another reason why Texas didn’t far so bad. It’s Texas’ dirty little secret that the GOP doesn’t like to talk about. It called government regulation, in the way of consumer protection, The Lone Star Secret.
As Kuff says about the AAS article, Perry’s going to have to take the blame when the time comes.

Which, as the story notes, is how it was before Perry took office, and how it will undoubtedly continue to be after he leaves. You want to give Perry credit for that, fine, but then he also deserves the “credit” for all of the austerity-induced job losses and all future educational setbacks resulting from cuts to public schools. That story is yet to be written, but the parts of it that begin to show up in the next few months while Perry may or may not be mounting a Presidential campaign deserve a full airing.

And there again we’re back to where Krugman left off. If Perry’s done such a good job of creating jobs why is Texas’ unemployment rate still so high? It’s because of this, that was pointed out in the AAS article.

Yet almost half of the state’s job growth the past two years was led by education, health care and government, the sectors of the economy that will now take a hit as federal stimulus money runs out and the Legislature’s 8 percent cut in state spending translates into thousands of layoffs among state workers and teachers in the coming weeks.

That certainly makes it seem like the unemployment rate in Texas will be going up after the Summer is over.

Local GOP infighting begins, as primary season nears

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commissioners Court, County Attorney, County Judge, Money In Politics, Right Wing Lies, Taxes, Teachers, Williamson County at 11:35 am by wcnews

Now that the legislative session is behind us it’s time to start gearing up for the primary season in Williamson County, and with that comes GOP infighting. The 2012 season is gearing up to be a bonanza of backstabbing. From the vantage point of an outsider it looks as though not long after the 2008 GOP primary there’s been issues between the County Attorney’s Office, the Court At Law Judges and the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) –  see here, here, and here.

Then late in 2010 and early 2011 the County Attorney and WCCC started filing lawsuits and grievances against one other like they were going out of style – see here, here, and here.  The latest in the saga is information that has surfaced regarding the WCCC hiring lobbyists to pass legislation through the Texas Legislature and at the Federal level as well.  The tab is adding up, and is likley to exceed $200,000.  (Go here, July Archive for the WCEA blog.  Scroll to the bottom and start reading – Commissioner Valerie Covey and the breaking “Lobbygate” scandal – Part I.)

The lobbying story was broken by a blog of united Williamson County employees.  They are fed up with the WCCC’s claims of poverty, while they continue to spend lavishly, and run up historic levels of debt, (that is the GOP way after all). Meanwhile, county employee pay stagnates and the cost of their benefits – especially health insurance – skyrockets. The county employees are feeling the pain average workers have known for years.

From what’s been reported so far, nothing illegal has been done, save for some possible violations of the procurement act and possibly some record retention lapses. The reason this is just now coming to light is the way the WCCC handled the hiring of the lobbyists.  Essentially they hired a law firm, to hire the lobbyists, which kept the actual “hiring of lobbyists” off of the WCCC’s agenda, away from public scrutiny, and, they hoped, political liability.  Which is why the after-the-fact claims that this was such a financial boon for the county seem so suspect. (As well as initial claims ignorance of hiring lobbyists, which have since been refuted). From the AAS, Williamson officials defend hiring of legislative lobbyists.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court is facing criticism over spending more than $100,000 on lobbyists to help get a bill passed in the Texas Legislature that speeds up the environmental review process for transportation projects.

The bill, which was approved in the regular session, imposes deadlines for the Texas Department of Transportation to complete environmental reviews. Federal law requires an environmental review before the construction of a transportation project by federal, state or local transportation entities.

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said the new law was necessary because the Department of Transportation, when it had no deadlines, took several years to approve a review needed before the county could add a median on U.S. 183 between the San Gabriel River and Seward Junction. During the delay, from 2006 to 2010, she said, the costs of purchasing right of way increased from $10 million to $37 million.

“Had this legislation been in place, the county would have saved $27 million,” she said.

The other part to this story is what it says about the state of our political process and what is left of our democracy. Because as much as we may not want it to be true, what state Sen. Kirk Watson says is true.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who was one of the authors of the bill in the Senate, said the people whom Williamson County hired worked with his office and with House members. He said the legislation was important.

“We needed it so that these local elected officials who are on the front line of trying to make improvements on behalf of the counties could get deadlines imposed,” he said.

To get the bill passed, Williamson County had to fight “folks that know this system and know how to kill bills,” Watson said. “TxDOT can create a traffic jam other than on the highway.”

He declined to comment about whether the county needed to hire the lobbyists but said that “this is one of those things that if you’re going to pull out all the stops, it didn’t hurt anything.”

Of course that’s not, in any way, to condone what’s been done or to say that anyone involved in this should not be held accountable for what they’ve done. But it is to say that when we have a state, and local government, whose elected officials have to raise campaign cash from special interests to get elected, we shouldn’t be surprised or particularly outraged when, once elected, they use their power over tax payer money to enrich those who finance their campaigns. Again, not saying it’s right, just that this is how our current system works. And when those working within the system do what’s required of the system, that means we have to change our system, to change what’s going on.

Issues like this will continue to come up as long as we allow special interests to control our political system. Some form of public financing of campaigns would be the logical place to start repairing our democracy.

The fear with what is taking place in this debate thus far, like with the phony debt crisis debate, is that once again we’re getting bogged down in process and minutiae, and not focusing on the big picture.  For decades there’s been a concerted effort to demonize government as the problem. That has trickled down to demonizing some of our most important public employees – firefighters, peace officers, and teachers – as greedy for wanting a living wage, benefits, and the pension they were promised when they were hired.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka recently said about public employees:

Quite frankly I find it America is stood on it head when we look at a group of workers and say they have something, and other people don’t and say… well… in America we should take it away form those that have  (laughter). Remember when we were at our zenith?  When people didn’t have something, we looked at it and said why not?  How can we get it for them, not take it away from those that do have it.

[...]

I’d ask everybody here that when you hear people making jokes about public employees, I wish you would stand up for them. Because they’re the ones that make the country function.  They’re in your hospitals, they’re in your towns.  They protect your house, they rush into a burning building.  They take care of your sick mother, sick dad. They’re there every single day.  They teach your kids and your grand kids.

It’s not just public employees, but workers in general, that have been under attack since the 1970s.  It’s always been workers vs. bosses and always will be.  The only way the workers can gain an advantage is by working together.  Since the 1970s, the bosses – corporations and the wealthy – have been successful at keeping workers fighting amongst themselves instead working together for their common good.  As this graph shows, As Union Membership Has Declined, Income Inequality Has Skyrocketed In The United States.

As most know, the GOP is a party that caters to the rich and the corporations.  They are not, generally speaking, a party that believes in equality, or democracy, in the work place.  They believe, by and large, that workers should be happy with what an employer chooses to give them.  And that is essentially what has happened in Williamson County.  The bosses (WCCC) believe that its employees are overpaid.  They are unwilling, not unable, to raise taxes, especially on the wealthy and therefore workers must pay the price.  The WCCC and their supporters have been on a tirade for at least a year, demonizing public employees, and it’s time for it to stop.

This is a fight between our county’s elected officials and the county’s public employees. Bosses versus workers. What’s unique is that it is also a political fight inside the GOP in Williamson County. It’s not likely this will end anytime soon and the only ones likely to suffer – if recent Williamson County history is any indicator – will be the taxpayers and public employees.

Further Reading:
What appears to be the bill in question that passed during the 82nd legislature, SB 19.
The Rise of the Wrecking-Ball Right.

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