09.28.12

Education becoming big issue in US Senate race as debates near

Posted in Around The State, Education, Election 2012, US Senate Race at 10:34 am by wcnews

US Senate candidates Paul Sadler and Ted Cruz have very different visions regarding education, Education emerging as point of contrast between Cruz, Sadler.

The contrasts are certainly stark.

Cruz has proposed eliminating what he deems unnecessary federal agencies including the Department of Education, which among other duties administers federal aid for students. Sadler’s campaign highlighted Cruz’s position as an example of contrasting visions in a press release Wednesday accusing Cruz’s campaign of being “anti-student.”

“This is reckless and dangerous and a very bad idea,” Sadler told KVUE. “It would cost the state of Texas between five and six billion more dollars in cuts to public education. Those aren’t mainstream values.”

Cruz told KVUE he believes block grants should be used to allow local government to allocate and administer student aid.

“I think we should take the funding, give it to the states and put the states in a position to make the decisions how to have the greatest impact in their communities,” said Cruz. “The needs in the state of Texas are different from the needs of California, or New York, or Rhode Island, or Nebraska.”

Their first televised clash will be one of political opposites and a step closer for one on the road to Washington, D.C.

And this from the DMN, Cruz waves off Sadler’s claim he’d gut federal college loans.

Texas GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz on Wednesday dismissed Democratic foe Paul Sadler’s criticism that Cruz’s proposal to abolish the U.S. Department of Education would jeopardize federal student loan programs for college students.

“Of course not,” Cruz said after an Austin appearance.

“Student aid is critically important. … In my life, education opened doors for my parents and for me that never would’ve been opened,” he said.

Cruz said federal student aid funds, though, should be wrested from the federal department’s control, and sent to the states as block grants.

[...]

Earlier Wednesday, Sadler said in a release that Cruz’s stance on abolition of the federal department would endanger the student loan programs it now administers.

“The Department of Education includes Federal Student Aid,” said Sadler, a former state legislator. “If we eliminate it, then we truly make college education unaffordable for a large segment of our population in every single country, every single city, every single town.”

Anyone who would trust the state of Texas, i.e. Perry and his minions, to actually use block granted education money for education is fooling themselves. That would be a huge hit to education and the hopes of many poor, working, and middle class Texans to get ahead.

Sadler is also hittling Cruz on his change in debate tactics now that the primary is over, Senate frontrunner Cruz limits debates; Sadler calls him ‘cowardly’.

For Republican U.S. Senate-hopeful Ted Cruz, the role reversal from underdog to favorite has left him open to a charge of hypocrisy from Democrat and challenger Paul Sadler.

Sadler says Cruz is now campaigning like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst did during the Republican primary, avoiding exchanges before Texas voters. In the months before the May GOP primary and July runoff, Cruz badgered Dewhurst for skipping dozens of candidate forums.
Cruz won the runoff.

But heading into the November election with a big lead in polls and money, Cruz has agreed to just two joint appearances; and that’s fine with him.

In Austin Wednesday to get the endorsement of the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Cruz indicated no need to round up more than a pair of debates.

“I’m looking forward to we’ve agreed to two debates,” Cruz said, “I’m looking forward to having a direct and clear contrast between two very different visions for our state and for our nation.”

Sadler said, “He chased Lt. Gov. Dewhurst all across this state and called him everything in the world because he wouldn’t debate him and it’s a little hypocritical to me.”

The first debate will be hosted by KVUE’s sister station, WFAA, in Dallas and aired live on KVUE beginning at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 2.

09.27.12

State and local debt skyrocketing….cause and effect

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Elections, Had Enough Yet?, Taxes at 10:58 am by wcnews

The reason state and local debt is skyrocketing in Texas is because of the right-wing ideological takeover of our state government. Those who currently run our state don’t believe in raising taxes. Instead of planning and building things as needed, we’ve moved to a system where things must get to a crisis level before anything gets done, and then it must be paid for through debt or some kind of risky privatization scheme.

There are things, especially in a fast growing state like Texas, that have to be built. Infrastructure in particular – roads,bridges, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth. The question is what is the best way to pay for new, and upkeep on, infrastructure? And since our current state leaders won’t use the former “pay as you go” tax system, all they are willing to do is issue debt. And the localities are left with no choice because of the policy decisions made a the state level:

  • Local property taxes, to pay for schools, are going up because the state passed a tax swap scheme in 2006 that created a multi-billion dollar annual structural budget deficit.
  • State and local debt keeps rising because the state has neglected to raise the gas tax to pay for roads, and therefore the only option left is to go into debt.
  • Another reason that local taxes have gone up is that local governments keep giving tax breaks to corporations and businesses. But the infrastructure to support them still has to be built, so the cost is shifted to the taxpayers.

All of that is to preface a report released yesterday by state Comptroller Susan Combs, Texas comptroller: voters who approve new state, local debt often not aware of prior obligations.

State and local debt more than doubled over the last decade, as documented by a report released Wednesday by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

In North Texas, growth is a major catalyst of new public expenditures. Growing suburbs are going to have higher debt ratios than older, more entrenched suburbs. The North Texas Tollway Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Dallas County Hospital District, among others, are in the midst of major expansion.

“If you’ve got a very, very rapidly growing city, you have got to take a look at schools and services and roads,” Combs acknowledged. “But across the state, the growth rate increase is exceeded rather largely by debt rate increase.”

State debt increased from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $40.6 billion in 2011. Local debt grew from $86.8 billion in 2001 to $192.8 billion last year.

“If I’ve got a 20 percent increase in population, I can understand a 20 percent increase in debt. I don’t understand 50, 70, 80 or 90,” Combs said.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said Wednesday that the amount of debt issued by local governments has grown largely because of unfunded mandates and state government’s refusal to take responsibility for the infrastructure needs of its rapidly growing population,

F. Scott McCown, executive director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said the comptroller’s logic is flawed. The center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that seeks to influence public policy to help poor and moderate-income Texans.

“When you say we’re not going to spend any more money than population growth plus inflation, you’re basically saying we’re never going to be a better place tomorrow than today. We’re never going to have a higher standard of living,” he said. “What kind of philosophy is that?”

Combs goes on to say that her main concern is that voters don’t have enough information about what they’re actually voting for and that ballot initiatives need more transparency, few if any will argue with that. But voters also have not been given the context and history of why they have to keep voting on debt related ballot initiatives. And maybe if the comptroller would inform them of those reasons, (see above), the people would start looking for leadership and policy changes at the state level.

Combs, the state’s chief accountant who is widely rumored to be considering a run for lieutenant governor in 2014, said she’s not making judgments on local projects but believes voters are too often making decisions without enough information. She also denied any political motivations behind the report, which is in line with fiscal conservative and tea party groups that have recently sharpened their sights on local debt.

Ah yes. Got to get right with the tea party if you’re going to run in the Texas GOP Primary.  The cause of the debt is because of the neglect by state leadership.

[UPDATE]: Texans also need to know why this headline is so funny, Perry pitches “truth in budgeting” in Fort Worth appearance.

Democrats chuckled Wednesday at Perry’s call for transparency.

“The truth is, the last two legislative sessions, the only way they have been able to balance the budget … was to sweep funds out of dedicated revenue sources into general revenue funds,” Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Steve Maxwell said. “If he really means this is what he needs to do … and he says to do away with tricks and gimmickry, that’s great.”

And don’t forget not completely funding Medicaid last session.

Further Reading:
State comptroller raises the red flag on debt.
Perry notes education needs in ongoing call for strict spending..

09.26.12

Reality Bites – we all use government assistance

Posted in Around The Nation, Good Stuff at 1:23 pm by wcnews

We Are the 96 Percent.

The survey asked about people’s policy usage throughout their lives, not just at a moment in time, and it included questions about social policies embedded in the tax code, which are usually overlooked.

What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.

On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives. An individual typically had received two direct social benefits in the form of checks, goods or services paid for by government, like Social Security or unemployment insurance. Most had also benefited from three policies in which government’s role was “submerged,” meaning that it was channeled through the tax code or private organizations, like the home mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free status of the employer contribution to employees’ health insurance. The design of these policies camouflages the fact that they are social benefits, too, just like the direct benefits that help Americans pay for housing, health care, retirement and college.

The use of government social policies cuts across partisan divides. Some policies were used more often by members of one party or the other. Republicans were more likely to have used the G.I. Bill and Social Security retirement and survivors’ benefits, while more Democrats had taken advantage of Medicaid and unemployment insurance. Overall, 82 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans acknowledged receipt of at least one direct social benefit. More Republicans (92 percent) than Democrats (86 percent) had taken advantage of submerged policies. Once we take both types of policies into account, the seeming distinction between makers and takers vanishes: 97 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats report that they have used at least one government social policy.

[...]

Throughout our lives, almost all of us help sustain government social policies through our tax dollars and, at some point, almost all of us directly benefit from these policies. Because ideology influences how we view our own and others’ use of government, Mr. Romney’s remarks may resonate with those who think of themselves as “producers” rather than “moochers” — to use Ayn Rand’s distinction. But this distinction fails to capture the way Americans really experience government. Instead of dividing us, our experiences as both makers and takers ought to bind us in a community of shared sacrifice and mutual support.

The government helps us all.

Someone is getting nervous

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Election 2012, Money In Politics, US Senate Race at 1:13 pm by wcnews

All of the sudden Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is starting to sing a different tune when it comes to campaign finance. Cornyn’s problem seems to be not with the money but with who controls the money.  The new, post Citizens Untied world, is taking power from the political parties.  Via Roll Call, John Cornyn Open to Campaign Finance Reform.

It’s rare for a Republican leader to express a “transparency” or “accountability”-based argument when it comes to campaign finance. And Cornyn by no means voiced support for the Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, which has failed multiple times to clear Congress and would force more disclosure from corporate-funded super PACs.

Cornyn expressed support for the right of groups to be engaged in the political process.

“The First Amendment is a fundamental value in this country, and the Supreme Court said as a constitutional matter, you can’t suppress free speech. And we knew all along that McCain-Feingold carved out for organized labor and other groups, so it was really a lopsided deal in the first place,” he said when asked if recent court decisions, such as Citizens United, which prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, have made the system worse.

Cornyn later clarified in a statement that his concern is primarily with how the political parties have been sidelined:”I believe we should strengthen the political parties, not limit free speech, and that starts with revisiting the federal fundraising restrictions and coordinated limits on both parties. Anyone who supports more campaign finance transparency should support a stronger political party system.”

The parties, but mostly the GOP so far, is losing it’s influence on candidate selection and messaging.  It’s pretty easy to see from what went on this year in the US Senate Primary in Texas.  Without Citizens United, and the resultant Super PAC’s, Ted Cruz could never have competed financially with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.   The “party elders” including Gov. Rick Perry were all for Dewhurst and he still lost.  Those two things are likely in the back of Cornyn’s mind as he readies for his reelection campaign in 2014.

“It certainly takes away some of the power of the NRSC not only [to] pick candidates but also to drive message,” former NRSC Executive Director Scott Bensing said of the influx of outside groups.

Bensing noted that the “first evolution” of the NRSC happened in 2003, after McCain-Feingold passed. He said the campaign committee has become “a clearinghouse for best practices, specifically with online campaigns.”

“It is more difficult to hold the Senate committee accountable for outcomes, for wins and losses, but I think there are still many ways to hold the committee accountable for how it spent its money, how it distributed its resources,” Bensing said.

Cornyn himself said the “broken campaign finance system” has created a “cacophony” of political voices that sometimes drown out that of the NRSC.

It’s a thesis that could be tested again soon if outside groups rush to the aid of Rep. Todd Akin, who has featured Cornyn’s face in his own against-the-establishment fundraising pleas and whom the NRSC has vowed not to fund in his bid for Missouri’s Senate seat.

After winning the primary to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), Akin lost favor after making controversial statements about rape and rape victims.

“It makes it impossible for the candidates or the political parties, for that matter, to control their message because you have so many different people – I mean, if you look at these campaigns, how many different groups are funding those races? And they can’t coordinate with the candidates or the party,” Cornyn said. “It’s this cacophony of just noise. So I think there’s a lot we could do to make this a lot simpler, if we would, but the whole idea of trying, in McCain-Feingold, to limit the flow of money into politics, has been an abject failure. The only thing that’s happened is that it’s become a lot less transparent.”

That the candidate selection process is slipping from party control, and because of that those candidates can hijack a party’s plan for taking back control of Congress.  As an example the extreme Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010 and possibly Akin in Missouri in 2012.   This scares those in the party hierarchy, because it is stripping them of their power and control. And it can also change the national narrative and impede the Presidential ticket from pivoting back to the middle. Because of  the extreme nominee for US Senate on the GOP side this year, I would encourage everyone to get to know Paul Sadler.

09.25.12

Here we go again

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Education, Inequality, Poverty, Taxes, The Budget at 3:22 pm by wcnews

Here we go again.  We’re about to spin back into the biennial vortex in Texas there’s talk about taxes, loopholes, and reform but nothing gets done. The reason nothing gets done is because the regressives that run our state don’t want anything to get done.  They see little, if anything, wrong with out current tax and revenue system in Texas.  That shouldn’t shock anyone, since they’re responsible for setting it up.

To get up to speed with what’s being discussed check out Kuff’s post, It’s usually a bad idea to bet on any kind of overhaul in the Lege.

I agree that it’s a sucker’s bet to think that the Lege will try to fix Texas’ tax code in any meaningful way. Nobody likes having to take votes that may later be used as clubs against them in a campaign, and the lobbyists swarm like no other time when someone’s tax break is on the line. But such an overhaul has to happen eventually.

[...]

As I’ve said many times before, nothing will change until the state’s leadership changes.

What I’ve said many times is that we can’t expect our current leaders who believe government is the problem, to know how, or even try for that matter, to use government for, or as part of, a solution.  The regressives don’t think there’s a problem, and the Democrats and progressives try to nibble around the edges in the austerity frame of the regressives.  This article from George Lakoff, from 2011 during the Wisconsin public pension fight, makes the case pretty good sums it up pretty good, What Conservatives Really Want.

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.  Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the Governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the President has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility—acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have over 800** military bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

He then discusses what needs to change.

What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.

Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific “cuts” is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-American — the top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life.

Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic.

Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.

And Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonks — talking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies. They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done. “Benefits” are pay for work, not a handout. Pensions and benefits are arranged by contract. If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them.

Democrats help conservatives when they use conservative words like “entitlements” instead of “earnings” and speak of government as providing “services” instead of “necessities.”  [Emphasis added]

In Texas we’re going to be looking at billions in surplus and likely over $10 in the Rainy Day Fund. In other words, Texas is not broke!  What we should be focusing on are the issues of poverty and education.  As well as what keeps people out of poverty – health care, a living wage, food, and a roof over their head.

It’s long past time Democrats and Progressives in Texas went about creating that long-term plan and began hammering home the message.  And the CPPP’s updated report, Who Pays Taxes in Texas?, is the perfect template.

Our quality of life in Texas depends on our public structures—including public education, child health services, and transportation infrastructure—maintained by Texas tax dollars. A good tax system would not only provide adequate revenue to maintain these structures, but would also  match the share of taxes paid with the share of income earned by each Texas family. The Comptroller’s 2011 study of the fairness  of the Texas state and local tax system,  Tax Exemptions and  Tax Incidence,idemonstrates conclusively that low-and moderate-income Texas families bear a disproportionate share of state and local taxes. We need a fairer system to fund public structures so we can improve and maintain Texas families’ quality of life.

Offering the people of Texas a clear alternative to what we currently have should be the focus for the future.  This cannot and will not change until we change the leadership of our state.

Further Reading & Viewing:
Senator pitches new state property tax for schools.
Teddy Roosevelt on a R living wage.

We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.

FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.
The CBPP, Misconceptions and Realities About Who Pays Taxes.

09.24.12

How the Texas GOP lost redistricting and nominated Mitt Romney

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Elections, Money In Politics, Redistricting at 2:42 pm by wcnews

Robert Draper wrote an article for The Atlantic on the post 2012 Census redistricting process,  The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.  A good portion of it is about what went on in Texas.  It points out, as does this Trailblazers post, National GOP’s redistricting gurus paint Texas’ mapmakers as blundering know-it-alls, that Texas did what many, even those experienced hands inside the national GOP, warned them against.

Still, legal battles have been the other major factor in diminishing the Republican Party’s success. Given that blacks and Latinos tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, Republicans have often taken pains to maximize their control of the districts in a way that does not violate the terms of the Voting Rights Act. But the new census results have presented the GOP with a particularly confounding puzzle—one that lies at the center of this cycle’s redistricting controversies. On the one hand, the biggest gains in U.S. population over the past decade have been in two Republican-controlled states: Florida, which thereby received two new congressional districts, and Texas, which was granted a whopping four.

But on the other hand, most of each state’s new residents are African Americans and (especially) Hispanics. In Texas, the population has swelled by 4.3 million over the past decade. Of those new residents, 2.8 million are Hispanic and more than half a million are African American. While those groups grew at a rate of 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the growth in white Texans was a meager 4.2 percent. In other words: without the minority growth, Texas—now officially a majority-minority state—would not have received a single new district. The possibility that a GOP map-drawer would use all those historically Democratic-­leaning transplants as a means of gaining Republican seats might strike a redistricting naïf as undemocratic.

And yet that’s exactly what the Texas redistricting bosses did last year. Shrugging off the warnings of Tom Hofeller and other Washington Republicans, the Texans produced lavishly brazen maps that resulted in a net gain of four districts for Republicans and none for minority populations. The entirely predictable consequence is that the Texas maps have spent more than a year bouncing between three federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The legal uncertainty has had national ramifications. It meant, for example, postponing the Texas primary from March 6 until May 29, which cost Texas its role as a prominent player in the Super Tuesday presidential sweepstakes—a very lucky break for the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, who likely would have lost the state to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

But the chaos produced by the overreach in Texas isn’t anomalous. Rather, it is very much in keeping with the new winner-take-all culture of redistricting, an endeavor that has somehow managed to grow in both sophistication and crassness, like an ageless strain of cancer that inhabits a host body for so long that the two seem inseparable, even as the former quietly destroys the latter from the inside out.

[...]

This amateur-hour dynamic presaged the Texas re­districting fiasco. My native state has a long heritage of bellicose gerrymandering, which began with pronouncedly racist maps drawn by Democrats more than half a century ago and continued with Tom DeLay’s knee-capping of Democratic incumbents in his notorious mid-census redistricting in 2003. But no one ever accused the DeLay machine of being out of its depth. In 2011, by contrast, the individual principally responsible for drawing the state’s congressional district maps, Ryan Downton, was a lawyer and co-owner of a medical-­imaging firm. The seemingly random hiring of a relative novice like Downton (who was defeated in May 2012 as a Republican candidate for the state legislature) was in keeping with a willful ignorance embraced by the state legislature’s two appointed redistricting chiefs, neither of whom had the slightest experience in this arcane field. (Downton says he was hired because of his litigation expertise, since so many redistricting cases end up in court.) As the veteran Texas Democratic redistricting strategist Matt Angle told me, “People who actually have an understanding of the Voting Rights Act—like Hofeller, who’s 10 times more competent than the people who drew these maps—they wouldn’t have been part of this.”

According to one of the Texas Republicans intimately involved in the map-drawing project, “Tom [Hofeller] and [Republican National Committee counsel] Dale Oldham created an adversarial relationship with the leadership here in Texas. Incredibly brilliant people who tend to think they’re right, and if you don’t agree with them, they don’t put much effort towards convincing you. And that rubbed raw with the leadership here in Texas.”

Whether through personality conflicts or out of hubris, the Texas Republicans decided to do things their own way, with no guidance from Hofeller or other Washingtonians. When I asked Lynn Westmoreland, the House redistricting vice chair, to describe his role in the state’s redistricting process, he replied in a weary voice, “Well, the Texas legislature basically told me, ‘We’re Texas, and we’re gonna handle our maps.’ You know, I’m just saying that when you have a population increase of 4 million, and the majority of that is minority, you’d better take that into consideration.”

These statistical realities left the Republican-controlled state legislature and Governor Rick Perry with three choices when it came to redistricting. They could bow to the demographics, draw three or four new “minority-opportunity districts”—­in which Latino and/or African American voters would have the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice—and then set themselves to the task, as Governor George W. Bush once did, of appealing to the state’s fastest-growing population. Or they could opt for the middle ground and create one or two such districts. Or, says Gerry Hebert, a lawyer who has handled numerous election and redistricting cases for Democrats, “they could use the redistricting process to cling to what power they have and hang on for as long as they can.”

I think it’s awesome the the leadership of the Texas GOP is being blamed for Romney’s nomination by the national GOP because of their redistricting shenanigans. But, let’s not forget, that dragging process out and postponing the primary also cost Lt Gov. David Dewhurst the GOP nomination for US Senate. So he only has himself to blame, as he is part of the GOP leadership.

But other than the Texas blundering, there was an interesting take on what recent rounds of redistricting have done to moderates and therefore compromise.

During his last few years in the House, John Tanner of Tennessee pursued a lonely quest to interest his colleagues in a redistricting-reform bill. Tanner was a co-founder of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who were all but wiped out in 2010, the year Tanner himself decided to head for the sidelines. He had introduced his bill first in 2005, when the Republicans controlled the House, then in 2007 and again in 2009, when Democrats were in charge and Nancy Pelosi was the speaker. “She and Steny [Hoyer, then the majority leader,] said, ‘That’s a good idea, we’ll take a look at it,’?” he recalled with a smirk. “But the hard left and the hard right don’t want it.”

Tanner says that redistricting’s impact has evolved over time, from simply creating safe seats for incumbents to creating rigid conservative and liberal districts, wherein the primary contests are a race to the extremes and the general elections are preordained. “When the [final] election [outcome] is [determined] in the party primary—which now it is, in all but less than 100 of the 435 seats—then a member comes [to Washington] politically crippled,” the retired congressman told me. “Look, everyone knows we have a structural deficit, and the only way out of it is to raise revenues and cut entitlements. No one who’s reasonable thinks otherwise. But what happens? The Democrats look over their left shoulder, and if someone suggests cutting a single clerk out of the Department of Agriculture, they go crazy. Republicans look over their right shoulder, and if someone proposes raising taxes on Donald Trump’s income by $10, they say it’ll be the end of the world. So these poor members come to Washington paralyzed, unable to do what they all know must be done to keep the country from going adrift, for fear that they’ll get primaried.

“It’s imposed a parliamentary model on a representative system,” Tanner went on. “It makes sense for Democrats to vote one way and Republicans to vote another in a parliamentary system. It’s irrational in a representative form of government. So what that’s done is two things. First, it’s made it virtually impossible to compromise. And second, as we’ve seen in this past decade, it’s damn near abolished the ability and responsibility of Congress to hold the executive branch of the same party accountable. The Bush years, we were appropriating $100 billion at a time for the Iraq War with no hearings, for fear that [those would] embarrass the administration. Hell yeah, that’s due to redistricting! The Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration became part of the same team. We’re totally abdicating our responsibility of checks and balances.

It’s unlikely a commission or committee fix will de-politicize redistricting. It should be clear the only way redistricting gets fixed is the same way our elections get fixed, take the massive amounts of cash out of our political process.

TPA Blog Round Up (September 24, 2012)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 8:32 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance is enjoying the change of season as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff took a deeper look at that Wilson Perkins poll of Texas.

Three Harris County judicial candidates and two Greens — one for US House of Representatives and one for US Senate — received the coveted Brainy Endorsement last week from PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

BossKitty at TruthHugger knows this just another season for Political Science experiments on the voting public. Let’s see how well they do, Generalizations: Politics is Science and we are all Test Subjects.

Transportation funding, the Voting Rights Act, and voter ID. WCNews at Eye on Williamson post about My afternoon at the Texas Tribune Festival.

Libby Shaw asks What is Mitt hiding? Find out what she thinks it is at TexasKaos.

Neil at Texas Liberal posted about donations he made to both Green Presidential nominee Jill Stein and to President Obama. Neil said that Ms. Stein is best on issues such as our rigged economy, climate change, and the freedom to dissent. He also said that those who think there is no difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are simply wrong.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants you to know that polluters can do untold damage and be liable for only $2M. Thanks to Republicans and their crony capitalism.

09.23.12

My afternoon at the Texas Tribune Festival

Posted in Around The State, Elections, Redistricting, Taxes, Transportation at 1:05 pm by wcnews

I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon at the Tribune Festival yesterday and was able to attend three panels.

>>> The first was Paying For Roads: The Great Debate. It was moderated by Scott Braddock. The panel was dominated by former Senate and House Transportation Committee chairs Sen. John Carona (D-Dallas) and Joe Pickett (R-El Paso). [Blockquoted excerpts and quotes are from the Trib Fest Liveblog].

Pickett started out by stating that we have a funding crisis but the people don’t know it because no one is telling them. They see road construction cones and think everything is just fine. He then went on to say that, “No one wants to raise the gas tax…..This isn’t Democrat or Republican.” And then Carona made his first points.

Sen. John Carona agreed with Pickett that roads funding is at a crisis level. He said it not only causes traffic jams but damages air quality and scares off businesses from moving to Texas.

He said part of the problem is that the state’s leadership — specifically the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House — have not led the way on addressing the problem.

“If they’re not willing to lead on those issues, my 20+ years in the Legislature have taught me it’s very hard to move forward,” Carona said.

Carona also made the point that doing nothing has a cost as well.  What he’s saying, in my opinion, is that instead of voter ID and other nonsense, transportation funding is the real emergency item. And if the people understood that they would understand the need to raise revenue to pay for transportation needs.

The other point Carona made several times was that “choices” that localities are left with actually aren’t choices at all.  He was essentially saying that toll roads or no roads is not a choice or the “free market” at work.

Panelists got into a spirited debate about toll roads. [Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority] said the Austin area is warming to toll projects and dynamic pricing in which a toll road’s price changes depending on the time of day and level of congestion.

Carona strongly disagreed.

“I think they embrace it because there isn’t an alternative,” Carona said. He suggested that too many toll road projects may be in the works. If drivers don’t have a choice but to take the toll road, the toll becomes a tax, he said.

And a much more expensive tax then raising the gas tax several pennies. Carona also made the points that private equity is the most expensive way to pay for roads and he would not recommend it.

Carona said private equity money is “expensive” and that too often TxDOT leans on private equity money to fund a project when there are cheaper approaches. TxDOT is ignoring

For example taxes and selling bonds. But most of the fireworks came toward the end when Carona accused Gov. Rick Perry of politicizing TxDOT by appointing unqualified political cronies to head the agency. Before then he said the position was always held by a qualified non-pollitical appointee.

Things got personal at the end of the panel, as Carona accused Gov. Perry of politicizing the Texas Department of Transportation by appointing “cronies” to its leadership. He said Delisi, a former Transportation Commissioner, counts as one of those “cronies.”

Delisi said TxDOT’s record over the last decade speaks for itself.

“One of the reasons txdot is ranked by CNBC as the best economy in the country is because of our infrastructure system,” Delisi said.

I don’t think Carona’s attack was personal, he was just stating his opinion on the lack of professional qualifications of the most recent leaders of TxDOT. And Delisi’s point about CNBC’s rank of TxDOT says nothing about what the people of Texas – taxpayers and drivers – think about TxDOT, where their status has really taken a hit.

My impression from the panel was that we have a transportation funding crisis and there is no easy solution. Toll roads are not the answer, either are the “creative” financing solutions. The most logical solution, though unlikely in the current political climate in Texas, is a broad based tax increase with toll roads and creative financing used rare instances.

>>> Next I attended the panel Does Texas still need the voting rights act? with Julían Aguilar moderating. Attorney Chad Dunn, Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburgh, VP of litigation for MALDEF Nina Perales, and Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton speaking.

This panel, if you can believe it, was less contentious then the transportation funding panel.  Solomons made the point over and over again that he didn’t think Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was fair, since it doesn’t apply to every state.  It only applies to a select few states and localities with a history of discrimination.  Solomons also kept making the point that the decisions made in redistrcting were political and not racial.

Solomons: “I do think the Voting Rights Acts serves a purpose … there are some things that are very subjective.”

Solomons makes case that Section 5 needs to be modified. Said it’s not fair for other states not to be subject to it when Texas is.

Solomons about the 2011 redraw: “We had 101 Republicans and we asserted power.”

Solomons about redistricting: “It’s poltical, it’s not racial.”

Solomons: “redistricitng is inherently political”

Points made by Perales and Dunn were that there is a remedy for Texas to get our of Section 5.

Perales says TX has been repeatedly rebuked by courts for violating voting rights provisions. Says TX has “consistent record” of breaking rules: “Texas is the worst of all the states.”

Dunn says there are “bailout” provisions that allow states to get out of VRA’s Section 5, but you have to prove you can “behave” and he says Texas hasn’t done that.

If they show that they no longer discriminate, “break the law”, over a period of time that can petition to be removed from Section 5 oversight. But Texas being the worst at violating Section 5 will not help them achieve the “bailout” provision.

There was more agreement then disagreement on the panel. Solomons the point several times that even though the court said there was discrimination in redistricting, the decision were made for political reasons and were not racially motivated. Which is why Dunn kept stating that the VRA will continue to be needed as long as there’s polarized political voting along racial lines. And the panel thinks that close, but were not there yet.

Perales: “I think Texas is on the cusp of being even more diverse than it is now.” She says she hopes there won’t be polarized voting anymore. That will be time to get out of Section 5. “We’ll get there. We’re on this steady march.”

>>> Next I was able to catch some of Voter ID: The Great Debate featuring state Reps. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, and Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. Moderated by Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political analyst and fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Much of it was a rehash of both sides arguments. Republican – protect integrity of elections. Democratic – a solution in search of a problem. First Aliseda did not believe that almost 800,000 voters would be disenfranchised, even though, as Martinez Fischer (TMF) kept pointing out, those were AG Abbott’s numbers.

The interesting part was what seemed like Aliseda’s attempt to link the issue to those on government assistance (the so-called %47).

Aliseda doubles down on why the poor, who opponents say will be disenfranchised by voter ID, can get a birth certificate to get on welfare or social security benefits. Birth certificate is required to get Texas’ free ID card to vote

Aliseda: Who is this country does not have an ID? If they are on the welfare roles, they have to have an ID. Do you know anyone that doesn’t have an ID card? They don’t exist.

“The only person that I believe doesn’t have an ID is the Unabomber,” he says.

Aliseda’s contention is completely false. I have an aunt who lives in rural Texas, same town all her life, she never got a driver’s license. To force her to get an ID to vote, where everyone in the polling place knows who she is, is idiotic. Especially, as TMF points out, when almost one third of Texas counties don’t have a DPS office.

TMF also pointed out several times there were ways for the Voter ID bill to be made to pass legal muster but the amendments were shot down by the Lege, along party lines. And there were other things that could have been done as well.

This was an emergency item (according to our governor) yet you didn’t see Perry tapping Rainy Day Fund to pay for birth certificates or free IDs for poor voters. Says voter ID was no reprehensible in court’s opinion, it was “thrown out on the first pitch.”

The law was shot down because it was too restrictive, and disenfranchises too many registered Texas voters. Texas is unlikely to have a voter ID provision until a new law is passed.

For more on how bad this law is read this, A walk through hell: My experience obtaining an approved ID to vote.

09.20.12

Unnecessary austerity

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Taxes, The Budget at 12:31 pm by wcnews

There’s been quite a bit of good news lately regarding the budgetary outlook for the next biennium, (2 year budget cycle), in Texas.  It’s pretty clear that we’re likely to have at leas a $5 billion surplus and bulging Economic Stabilization Fund, aka Rainy Day Fund.  Last sessions austerity budget, and the Comptroller’s suspect budget projections, are some of the reason for this. The rest is just because of ideology and greed.

But to understand the budgetary mess in Texas one has to understand the Texas revenue structure.  Texas gets the largest percentage of its revenue from the state sales tax and the federal government.  It also gets some from a flailing, if not failing, “margins tax” created by the great GOP tax swap scheme of 2006.  Where Texas does not get revenue from is a state property tax or a state income tax.  All property taxes are levied at the local level.

What’s key to remember is that if it wasn’t for the disastrous tax swap scheme of 2006 much of the austerity forced on education and social services by the legislature and Gov. Rick Perry could have been avoided. Via the CPPP.

Overview
The $27 billion revenue shortfall faced by the Legislature in 2011 was not solely the result of the national recession and the needs of a growing population. Roughly a third of this gap was due to decisions made five years before, when the Legislature required school districts to cut their property taxes, but failed to create new sources of state revenue to fully replace the foregone revenue, creating a $10 billion hole or structural deficit. This hole will appear in every state budget until the Legislature fills it with additional revenue.

What Happened?
In 2006 the Legislature required school districts to reduce their school property tax rates by one-third, but committed to replacing the foregone property tax revenue so that the school districts would maintain their total state/local revenue. To fund this commitment, the state reformed the franchise tax (now popularly known as the “margins tax,” for reasons explained below) and increased the cigarette tax. However, the new state revenue raised by these changes falls some $10 billion short in each biennium of replacing the property tax revenue given up by the school districts.

The reason it’s important to know all of this is because once this is understood it’s easy to see that what happened last session was not caused by any economic downturn but by ideology and was not done out of necessity.

And they might even have one more trick up their sleeve to try and get rid of the “margins tax” and continue harming the state of Texas. Texas could face new budget woes.

The Texas Supreme Court could blow a hole in the state’s budget if it finds the business tax unconstitutional, as pressed Tuesday in a lawsuit led by food giant Nestlé USA.

[...]

If the Supreme Court throws out the law, the scope of the court’s decision will determine if the state needs to quickly find another way to come up with some $4.5 billion annually or more.

[...]

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said an adverse ruling would affect money “necessary to fund essential state services.”

No one knows how the Texas Supreme Court will rule on this. But if they did throw the tax swap out, it certainly would be a convenient excuse for the regressives in Texas to keep from re-funding public education next session.

According to a recent study there is an excellent opportunity to cut the number of uninsured Texans in half by 2014.

If Texas fully implemented the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including expanding Medicaid, the state’s uninsured rate could decrease by half or more in 2014, according to a study commissioned by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and authored by Dr. Michael Cline, associate director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, and Dr. Steve Murdock, former Texas state demographer and former U.S. Bureau of the Census director. The researchers found that every Texas county would see a drop in their uninsured rates and as many as 4.4 million Texans would gain health coverage.

In their study, summarized by the Center for Public Policy Priorities in a policy brief titled Choices and Challenges, Cline and Murdock used the 2010 U.S. Census American Community Survey to estimate the uninsured populations of Texas counties and then estimated three levels of potential impact the Affordable Care Act would have on Texas counties.

The benefits from that to Texas would be enormous. We have to start judging policies and proposals in Texas on how they will benefit poor, working, and middle class Texans first. Instead of through the prism of not hurting those at the top, like has been the case for far too long.

Unless we act it will be 2011 all over again in the Texas Legislature in 2013

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Right Wing Lies, The Lege at 8:35 am by wcnews

Harvey Kronberg seems to think that Texas is setting up for another legislative session in 2013, that’s likely to be at least as bad for the people of Texas, as was the one in 2011.  It’s hard to argue with the case he makes.

  • That President Barack Obama is likely to win a second term;
  • Coupled with a Romney loss will force the GOP to completely remove all moderates from their party;
  • Which makes Perry the likely favorite of what’s left of the GOP for the nomination in 2016;
  • therefore Perry and GOP minions in the Lege will highjack another legislative session for Perry’s “presidential” aspirations.

Here’s an excerpt from Kronberg’s article at YNN, 2016 presidential race may dominate next legislative session.

Nothing unites conservatives more strongly than a passionate animosity toward the President. If Mr. Obama has the decisive win last week’s polling suggests is now possible, the hard right will be energized as never before.

Despite his last bobbled Republican primary effort, Governor Perry is already in the mix for 2016 and will have plenty of time to rebuild his now-broken national brand. That means he will play for the bleachers in this next legislative session.

But as the [legislative committee] hearings reminded us, Texas still faces myriad issues. Holding yet another legislative session hostage to presidential ambitions is not a predicate for serious solutions to serious problems.

But there is still have 7 weeks left to try and blunt these kind of actions in the next legislative session. One way is to elect as many Democrats, like Matt Stillwell , to the legislature as possible. Just what we don’t need is another legislative session where Perry and his GOP minions are trying to make Texas out to be the right wing template for the United States.

Here’s the video of Kronberg’s column.

Further Reading:
Perry: Church and state separation is the devil’s work.

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