Carter, who has represented Texas’ 31st Congressional District since 2002, offered an overview of the country’s fiscal year 2010 spending.
With the help of a PowerPoint pie chart, he told the crowd that defense and non-defense discretionary spending represent the two areas politicians are realistically able to cut at the present time.
Other segments of the economy, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, were labeled by Carter’s chart as “autopilot spending.” The congressman said these areas, totalling nearly $1.5 trillion combined, must be addressed.
As one example, Carter said he could potentially support raising to 70 the age for receiving full Social Security benefits. “We don’t have to necessarily take any people’s benefits away to start fixing Social Security, but we have to restructure it,” Carter said. “If we just keep kicking the can down the road, we are going to become Greece and there will be no one to bail us out.”
Of course, raising the retirement age to 70 is cutting people’s benefits, and Carter doesn’t seem to understand that. Those are years longer that Americans will have to go before being able to receive their Social Security benefits. Not only is it cruel and wrong but it hurts the economy.
To keep Social Security strong for another 75 years, Sanders’ legislation would apply the same payroll tax already paid by more than nine out of 10 Americans to those with incomes over $250,000 a year. [...] Under Sanders’ legislation, Social Security benefits would be untouched. The system would be fully funded by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax already assessed on those with incomes up to $106,800 a year.
Shame on Rep. Carter for not knowing the facts about Social Security, but that’s what Republicans do. They’ve been against Social Security since it was created. But as with most of our country’s economic issues, Social Security can also be fixed if the wealthy and corporations would just start paying their fair share of taxes again.
A mystery file, unsealed after 24 years in storage at an Austin courthouse, indicates that prosecutors or investigators perpetrated a fraud to secure the murder conviction and life sentence for Michael Morton in 1987, the Innocence Project of New York alleged in a court filing Tuesday.
The file, sealed under a 1987 court order amid Morton’s appeals, was ordered open last week as part of the Innocence Project’s claim that recent DNA tests prove Morton did not kill is wife, Christine.
The file was supposed to contain all materials produced by Williamson County sheriff’s Sgt. Don Wood, now retired, as the lead investigator into Christine Morton’s murder, the Innocence Project said.
Instead, the file contained only Wood’s five-page report detailing the investigation’s first day and a one-page consent form, signed by Michael Morton, allowing his house and pickup to be searched.
The skimpy file raised the “specter of official misconduct,” the Innocence Project alleged in court papers, because it did not include recently revealed evidence that could have raised questions about Morton’s guilt, including the transcript of a taped conversation between Wood and Christine Morton’s mother 11 days after the murder. According to the typed transcript, the Mortons’ 3-year-old son indicated that he had witnessed the killing and said his father, Michael Morton, was not home at the time.
“If trial prosecutors had the transcript in their 1987 file and willfully concealed it from this court and/or the Court of Appeals, then they have committed fraud on the court of the highest order — and in the process, condemned an innocent man to prison for a quarter-century,” the Innocence Project motion reads.
Under a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, prosecutors and law enforcement must provide defense lawyers with evidence that is favorable to the defendant and could change the trial’s outcome.
If prosecutors knowingly withheld evidence from Lott and Morton’s lawyers, they violated their duty under the U.S. Constitution, the Innocence Project said.
And if investigators withheld evidence from prosecutors, “it is a per se violation warranting immediate post-conviction relief,” the motion said.
This is really bad. This makes Williamson County look like Hazzard County. It’s time for Michael Morton and the rest of his family to get justice. He needs to be released from jail ASAP, until this travesty of justice is sorted out.
This article doesn’t mention that the prosecutor in this case was now Williamson County District Court Jude Ken Anderson and the co-prosecutors, Mike Davis was recently hired by the Williamson County Commissioners Court with out a public vote to provide tax paid legal services to Don Higginbotham, a county court-at-law judge, who was faced sexual harassment complaints last year.
State legislators Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Rep. Sylvester Turner wrote this an Op-Ed, Short-sighted cuts costly to poor. The worst part is that this corporate welfare comes at the expense of the most vulnerable in our state. In the Op-Ed they show how money collected from consumers, meant to help the elderly and low income Texans with their summer electric bills, is instead being used to protect tax breaks for oil and gas companies.
For example, almost $100 million was cut from the System Benefit Fund Low Income Discount program – also known as LITE-UP Texas – that provides for an electricity rate discount for qualifying low-income customers. Created in 1999 as part of the deregulation of the state’s electricity market, it is funded through a monthly fee on everyone’s utility bill. The fund’s goal has always been to assist the least fortunate Texans in braving the summer heat, and as temperatures across the state soar to increasingly high levels, that mission is more critical than ever. Unfortunately, the short-sighted cuts from last session will harm far too many vulnerable elderly and low-income Texans.
What makes this situation even more untenable is that those in charge chose to leave more than $650 million sitting in the fund in order to protect tax breaks for oil and gas companies and make up a portion of the $27 billion shortfall. That’s right: While Texas bakes, more than $650 million that could have gone toward assisting Texans with their utility bills and energy-efficiency upgrades sits unused and cannot be touched.
This is dishonest governing, pure and simple: telling Texans their money will be used for one purpose but instead redirecting it to another without voter approval. Our state deserves more from its budget than smoke-and-mirrors and diversions.
Fortunately, Texas has an opportunity to do better during the next legislative session. We can and should assist our state’s most vulnerable citizens as the law currently provides. It will take additional revenue to help fill the hole dug by those in charge, but this can be done without any new taxes. Instead, a systemic review of the state’s loophole-ridden tax system is long overdue.
The Texas Tax Code contains numerous preferential corporate tax giveaways that were inserted into the code in the distant past. These loopholes live on today as unjustified and, in effect, hidden spending programs benefiting a few at the expense of the many.
For example, the so-called “high cost” natural gas tax loophole gave away more than $7.4 billion from 2004 to 2009 to natural gas producers simply because their lobbyists have been able to maintain an antiquated definition of “high cost” in statute. This tax incentive was created in 1989 to help companies with the costs of drilling high-cost wells, which made sense then as a means of spurring new technologies to access hard-to-reach natural gas. Now, however, virtually every new well produced is a high-cost well, meaning all new drilling receives a tax incentive to do what is already going to be done. From new drills established in 2009 alone, Texas will lose another $7.9 billion over the next 10 years.
While the Legislature cannot do anything about the heat, we can help those most in need and be honest about how taxpayer funds are spent. Accomplishing that while also cleaning up a tax code full of outdated tax breaks may lead to some hot days in Austin come next session, but the state will be far better off.
It’s actions like these that should remind everyone that Republicans work to protect the wealthy and the powerful and the rest of us can just fend for ourselves.
It’s always interesting how willing the wealthy/corporations, Chamber of Commerce types, are to do away with poor, working and middle class worker’s pensions. Today via the AAS, Battle brewing over Texas public pensions.
Texas could be gearing up for its own Wisconsin-style grudge match over public employee benefits.
A group of high-powered Houston business leaders is starting a statewide campaign to overhaul retirement for future teachers, firefighters, police officers, judges and other state and local government workers.
“I think the state needs to get the hell out of this (pension) business completely,” said lawyer Bill King , who is forming Texans for Public Pension Reform with others from the Greater Houston Partnership, an über-chamber of commerce with business members representing $1.5 trillion in assets.
Taxpayers bear too much risk on behalf of public employees by providing them a guaranteed retirement that most private sector workers don’t get, King said.
But advocates of the public pension system say there are ways to eliminate or reduce risk without doing away with the program.
“They don’t have to destroy a system that works,” said Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.
He said government pensions provide retirement security for millions of Texans in a cost-effective manner for taxpayers. Research by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shows that professionally managed pension funds produce better investment returns than 401(k)s and cost less to administer. [Emphasis added]
Essentially the scheme King is working on will take away the guaranteed money (defined benefit) public retirees were promised and replace it with a risky 401(k) type investment (defined contribution). Essentially it’s the same scheme that was run in Wisconsin they’re just going to a do it a little nicer.
King said the campaign is in its infancy, and its specific goals are still being developed. It’s not clear how the campaign will get involved in next year’s elections or the 2013 legislative session, but King said he is confident the campaign will soon make pensions an issue for lawmakers.
King said he would support a constitutional amendment eliminating public pensions in the state and moving all government employees to retirement accounts akin to 401(k)s. Legislators would have to approve such an amendment on the ballot when they convene in 2013.
With a pension, also known as a “defined benefit” plan, the employee and employer both contribute to a professionally managed pooled investment fund. Upon retirement, the worker draws a monthly check until death. The average annual annuity in the Employees Retirement System of Texas is around $17,500.
The alternative “defined contribution” plan puts the risk on the employee to invest the money. The account is portable for the worker, but there is no guarantee of income throughout the retiree’s lifetime.
King, the son of a union pipefitter, said he was disappointed with the anti-worker tenor of the Wisconsin battle over collective bargaining rights. This campaign, he added, is not intended to bully public employees.[Emphasis added]
The wealthy and corporations likely see a big pot of money that they would like to have. But this scheme has already been seen for what it is, an unnecessary boondoggle.
Pension fund leaders from across the state see no good intentions in the Houston initiative, and earlier this month they created Texans for Secure Retirement to protect the guaranteed retirement benefit for public workers.
“When there are rumblings, you sit up and take notice,” said Bill Miller, a prominent Austin political consultant and lobbyist representing the employee pension groups.
Miller said he doubts that pension reformers will be able to make it a major issue in next year’s legislative elections. But if they do, he said there are 2 million public pension members in Texas who will stand up and take notice.
“I’m not picking a fight, but I’m not backing off from one, either,” Miller said.
They realize that this is unlikely to be a good campaign issue in 2012 and will likely try to keep in under the radar. But with ALEC-funded groups in Texas writing legislation for right wing legislators, they’re likely to pass very destructive public pension legislation next session if this is not made an issue by Democrats in 2012.
Talmadge Heflin, former House appropriations chairman, agreed that it is probably too late for the pension reform group to be a major force in the 2012 elections.
But they could make waves during the 2013 legislative session, said Heflin, who has advocated for similar reforms as director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy.
“It’s about time that people around the state start paying attention,” Heflin said.
Just like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, public pensions help keep many in our state out of poverty when they retire and/or can no longer take care of themselves. Over the last 40 or so years we have been making bad economic decisions, and that’s why income inequality has been increasing. Giving more money to those with the most in our society, makes everyone else worse off. Until we stop allowing the wealthy and the corporations to get away without paying their fair share it will only get worse.
Heflin was right about one thing, “It’s about time that people around the state start paying attention”. Before it’s too late
A Houston city council candidate has affixed hundreds of his campaign signs to utility poles — in violation of both city ordinance and the utility company’s rules — throughout the city, many of them 20- and 30-feet off the ground. This candidate, an attorney, blames “overzealous volunteers” and makes no promise to remove them. This candidate’s name is Eric Dick. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs asks the (hopefully obvious) question: does Houston really need another dick on city council?
This week on Left of College Station, Teddy continues to look at Rick Perry’s Texas. From tort reform that doesn’t deliver on promises to water infrastructure neglect that has left Texas a dry state; from crony capitalism that benefits Perry’s campaign contributors to the fact that Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation. It’s hard to mess with Texas when Perry already has.
Neil at Texas Liberal will be taking part in a spoken word event and concert in Cincinnati on Saturday, 9/3 to mark the release of the Aurore Press book Living In The Lap Of Labor. This book is a collection of essays about working in America. Neil has an essay in the book and will be reading from that essay. While it is unlikely you will be in Cincinnati in the week ahead, Neil asks you to stop on by and say hello if you are in fact in town.
Economic development used to be about swinging for the fences. Game changers like Alliance, Texas Motor Speedway, a new RadioShack headquarters, a Cabela’s store, the Tower condos and the SuperTarget-Montgomery Plaza project were risky and expensive — and offered plenty of upside to go with it.
Not every one has delivered as hoped, but each justified the heavy lifting and political capital required.
Contrast those deals with the small ball that the city was playing last week. The planning department proposed tax breaks for three projects, including one pledging to bring just 60 jobs to the area — and to fast-growing Alliance at that.
Another abatement is for a distribution center for In-N-Out Burgers. This isn’t exactly an operation that could locate in Oklahoma and still deliver fresh meat to new outlets in DFW.
Frac Tech Services, proposing the biggest expansion, is already in Fort Worth. Do you think a fracking company would leave the fracking capital of the world over a tax break?
Guess we got to show ‘em the love.
Tax abatements make sense when trying to entice a business to come to an economically depressed area, not to an area that’s already growing and likley to continue growing. Essentially the business is coming anyway so there’s no reason to give an abatement. But now that business, corporations, and privatization have taken over our government, these deals are expected. They now expect the local taxpayers to pay their fair share to help their businesses, they now feel entitled to taxpayer money, whether is makes economic sense or not.
Even Wendy Davis, a champion of economic development, could be counted on to ask about “the gap.” She’s a state senator now, but when she served on the council, she pored over spreadsheets and demanded to know why a taxpayer contribution was crucial to closing a deal.
She wanted it to pass a test: If not for this tax break, the project wouldn’t happen.
That wasn’t the case with every incentive, of course. Pier 1 Imports got one simply because RadioShack did before it, not because there was any threat of moving.
Somewhere along the line, tax breaks went from being something special to being routine. They now seem to be a business entitlement.[Emphasis added]
They were never reserved for only the biggest deals. Picht said he once approved an abatement for a small project because it was in a distressed area that was desperate for investment and jobs.
The distribution center for In-N-Out is exactly the kind of project that the city shouldn’t subsidize, Picht said. The company has to locate in the middle of the Metroplex, and the CentrePort area south of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is prime real estate.
If that distribution center went to Irving or Grand Prairie, for instance, Fort Worth residents would still have a good shot to work there. And the city wouldn’t send the message that tax policy has two tracks — one for well-heeled, connected businesses and one for everybody else.
State Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) tries his hand at false equivalency with his lame attempt to blame “both parties” for his inability to meet his goals during the last legislative session. Via The Eagle, Sen. Ogden rails ‘politics of ambition’.
State Sen. Steve Ogden, a powerful Bryan Republican, blasted both parties Wednesday and what he called “the politics of ambition” to explain failures of the last Texas Legislature.
Ogden told a group of some 350 at a luncheon in College Station that he had four goals for the session: To balance the budget and to fix school finance, the state’s business tax and Medicaid.
Only the first of the goals was accomplished, he said.
“Politics, more than I’ve ever seen it, dominated the last session,” said Ogden, a longtime legislator who served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Those are some very ambitious and elitist remarks from such a wealthy state Senator. As has been noted before Ogden, (and much of the Texas media) likes to portray him, incorrect though it may be, as a fair arbiter of all things budget related in Texas. Ogden goes on to say this about why he failed to get three of his four goals accomplished.
Republicans carried a 19-to-12 majority in the Senate, but because bills needed 21 votes to get to the floor, Ogden said, Democrats often blocked the process.
Democrats “decided their best political strategy was not to play,” Ogden said. “They thought, ‘The budget was so tight and the decisions were so tough that maybe we ought to just blame the Republicans, and … always vote no.’”[Emphasis added]
A dynamic in play for incumbents from both parties was the fear of primary opponents. Compromise and moving to the center is increasingly dangerous when your mind is on fending off primary challenges, which tend to attract the party’s most liberal and conservative voters, Ogden said.
“Primary politics is beginning to divide your Legislature into the most liberal and the most conservative,” Ogden said, “and there’s not a lot of room, at least in the last session, for mediation.”
Ogden called the debate regarding the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a pool of around
$9 billion set aside for tough times, “pretty maddening.” The state spent $3.2 billion, and used accounting tricks to avoid using more of it, Ogden said.
“It became just sort of an article of faith that you can’t spend the Rainy Day Fund,” Ogden said. “We ended up spending [part of] it without admitting it. And I was telling one of my fellow senators, ‘This is all BS. This is just politics.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Well, that’s what we do.’”
Of course Ogden left quite a bit out of his speech. The highlighted part is completely false, and Ogden knows it. In particular the fact that he had two Democrats voting with him (and GOP state Sen. Dan Patrick against) on the budget in committee, and they would have stayed with him on the floor. Then the extreme right-wing GOP outside groups got to his party, Dewhurst flip-flopped on the rainy day money, Ogden “folded like a pair of deuces”, and the bipartisan agreement disintegrated. But in Ogden’s mind, the Democrats forced all of this because of the 2/3rds rule in the Senate?!
The fact that the GOP controls every branch of government in Texas and never seriously tried to compromise with Democrats on anything, beyond him in the Senate Finance Committee, means blame for what was or wasn’t accomplished last session lies solely with Ogden’s party – the GOP-led legislature in Texas.
Since the creation of the Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the Rainy Day Fund, that money was used in tough economic times. In fact that’s exactly why it was created to stabilize and unstable budget situation. The extremists on the right decided not this time, and caused the problems that Ogden is trying to falsely blame on both sides. The GOP holds all the power, the Democrats none, the GOP deserves all the blame, and nothing Ogden says will change that.
“This is a moment that working people and quite frankly history will judge President Obama on his presidency; will he commit all his energy and focus on bold solutions on the job crisis or will he continue to work with the Tea Party to offer cuts to middle class programs like Social Security all the while pretending the deficit is where our economic problems really lie,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters at a breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Trumka dismissed Obama’s recent job creation proposals — an extended payroll tax cut, patent reform, free trade deals — as “nibbly things that aren’t going to make a difference,” and said the AFL might sit out the Democratic convention if he and the party don’t get serious.
“If they don’t have a jobs program I think we’d better use our money doing other things,” Trumka said.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the current climate “absolutely” the worst he has seen during the course of his 40-year career in organized labor. His 11-million-plus federation has been forced to adjust, he said, and is making a concerted push to expand their campaign operation so the organization can better pressure lawmakers while in office, and not just on the campaign trail.
“In the past we’ve spent a significant amount of resources on candidates and party structures, and the day after election, workers were no stronger then they were the day before,” Trumka said, during a sit down at his Washington D.C. office slightly more than a week ago.
“What we are now focused on is doing a couple of things differently,” Trumka said. “In the past, we would build our structure six to eight months before the election,” he added. “Now we’re not going to do that. We’re going to focus our resources on building a structure that has total fidelity towards America’s working people, both union and non-union working people. We’ll do it 12 months a year, so they’ll be able to transition from electoral politics, to advocacy, to accountability with no effort. And it will continue to build greater strength for workers after the election and in between elections.”[Emphasis added]
The comments from the AFL-CIO chief provide a detailed outline of the vision he has in store for a tinkered — but still-powerful — campaign apparatus. To execute that vision, the union federation is outfitting itself with some new tools, including a super PAC that will allow it to raise unlimited funds from corporations, individuals and other unions.
The AFL-CIO doesn’t just plan to extend its political engagement, but to hyper-localize it as well.
“One of the most important aspects of the labor movement, which is different then for other entities, is that we have an enormous network of local community workers who are responsible for talking to people after their election,” one top union official said. “The experience of the last six years should teach progressives a great deal about the difference between elected people who say the right thing in their candidate questionnaires and the people who are there voting for workers, voting for jobs and advocating our positions.”
“There was a perception in the progressive community in January 2009 that things had gotten pretty good,” the official, who requested anonymity, added. “But we didn’t have an infrastructure in place to say we need a bigger stimulus, or we need to be concerned about jobs or we need to have a different national agenda.”
What Trumka is making clear and all of us need to understand is that we can’t rely on elected officials to do what’s right once elected, they must be “lobbied” – pushed, pulled, prodded to do the right thing – year round.
In case you haven’t noticed the GOP has a plan. Over the years it’s been called “Voodoo Economics” or “Trickle-down or Trickle-on Economics”, (depending on one’s vantage point). They talk of getting government so small it can be drowned in a bath tub. They denigrate social programs that provide medical care to the elderly and dignity to those who can’t take care of themselves, as well as keep the elderly and children whose parents die, out of poverty.
They want to take those social services away from the government and hand them over to for profit corporations, who they believe, (falsely, ignorantly, and often times corruptly), can do a better job. In other words they want to privatize government services and let their friends, and campaign contributors, profit from them. That’s their plan for education, and it will soon, if left unchecked, trickle-down to law enforcement, fire, EMS and all other government employees.
In the 11 years that Beatriz Roman worked at ASU, she waxed the floors and dusted the insides of five buildings. She even knew exactly how much toilet paper each building needed. Eight rolls, for every floor. Then, at the very end of last school year –
BEATRIZ ROMAN: The lady, she comes and she says, oh. I have bad news.
That lady was an ASU administrator.
ROMAN: Everybody lose their job. Everybody’s working only two more weeks.
The university laid off its entire custodial staff. All 191 were offered jobs with private companies that would take over ASU’s cleaning duties.
ROMAN: After this, I’m depressed. I’m very depressed.
Roman is a widow and the mother of a teenager. But she turned down the offer. In fact, only three people took the job. Custodians say the pay and vacation days were less. Health insurance premiums were more expensive. Plus, there were no state retirement benefits, and if Roman accepted the work, she’d lose her university severance package. That pays $1,100 bucks a month, the same as her previous salary after taxes. With a pet parakeet chirping behind her, I ask what happens when the money runs out in November. [Emphasis added]
ROMAN: Good question. Good question. I need find job. Soon.
The commissioners slashed $348,000 from the budget by cutting the 1.5 percent pay raise proposed for law enforcement. The court also cut the pay raise proposed for civilian employees from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, which saved $626,500.
The court also cut two full-time and one part-time clerical position from the Department of Public Safety office in Georgetown, which saved the county $65,500.
It was understandable when people would get up in arms about government overspending on defense contracts and too much waste., but we’re way beyond that now. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, teachers, cops, and firefighters those are needs, not luxuries or waste. Citizens in Williamson County and across this country have to wake up and realize what we’re losing with these austerity measures.
It seems logical that if they’re not going to use that money to hire workers then maybe it’s time the poeple, in the form of the government, started taxing that money and using it to create jobs. Our main economic problem is lack of demand. High unemployment means there are many people who can’t afford to buy stuff. Until they have jobs, and money, the can’t buy stuff. And until they start buying more stuff, that corporations make, the corporations won’t start hiring again. Therefore if the corporations won’t hire then the government must. There’s much to be done.
It’s taken decades for the anti-worker, cheap labor conservatism, to trickle-down to the local level but now it has. And unless it is stopped soon we will be paying our most needed public employees like they’re clerks at a convenience store.
[UPDATE]: From last night’s Countdown – The War on the Poor.