03.21.07

Why Do Republicans Always Try To Dodge The Tough Decisions?

Posted in Privatization, The Budget, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 1:27 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear writing at Postcards has a post up that illustrates again why Republicans can’t govern and why issues like the TTC, in this instance, can’t be fixed with Republicans in power, Gas tax wrangling; stirrings of special session. (Similar issues are our state parks and CHIP to name a couple).

The GOP has worked themselves into a corner on the TTC. It’s clear that the only way to change the direction of transportation issues in is to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation. Whether it’s that alone or some local tolls as well would be a good debate to have. (See Ben Wear’s earlier post today on that issue). But from the post above it’s more than apparent that Republicans don’t’ have the….intestinal fortitude to make the tough decisions that need to be made in order to make up for their past mistakes.

If there were ever a political environment and a time when the Republicans running the Legislature might consider raising the long-flat state gasoline tax, this session of boiling unrest over tolls would appear to be that time. Not to House Republicans.

State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, after giving a committee hearing a few weeks ago to state Rep. Mike Krusee’s bill to allow the gas tax to float upward with inflation, has left the bill pending. He said Tuesday that he’s inclined to let it die.

“If the whole committee came to me and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ I’ll have to give it a lot of credence,” Keffer said in an interview. “But they haven’t done that.”

There’s can no longer be any denying that the leaders of our state, because of politics, have allowed our transportation infrastructure in this state to wither and decay. The plan to sell, and toll everything from Brownsville to Amarillo and El Paso to Beaumont is directly related to the fact that the gas tax has not been raised since 1991. Democrats could not pass it as their power in Texas waned and it hasn’t even been an issue for Republicans since taking power. Instead, like with so many of their fixes, they’ve decided to make government as inefficient as possible in order to sell it off to the highest bidder.

In the eyes of these Republicans there is never any reason to raise taxes. They will do irrational things to keep from raising taxes. They would much rather sell our infrastructure to the highest bidder. They will put outrageously high priced tolls on our roads to keep from raising the gas tax which would be much, much cheaper for everyone. They will try to force decisions they were elected to make back onto the people of Texas to avoid being held accountable. And they would waste more taxpayer money by having a special session devoted to doing this because they can’t get it done during the regular session.

The scuttlebutt in the Capitol hallways is that members of the Legislature are talking about wanting a special session for transportation. The idea is that if they are going to severely restrict the Texas Department of Transportation’s ability to raise money through toll roads, they’d better find other revenue for roads. And if they’re going to do that, and if it involves raising taxes, better to do it in a single-issue environment where the public could be made to understand their decisions.

One possibility being floated: a constitutional amendment on the gas tax issue. Right now, the Texas Constitution requires that 25 percent of gas taxes go to public education. The public might be asked to waive that requirement, either on the full 20 cents in place right now (which would equate to an instant 5-cent increase, but require making up about $750 million a year from other revenue sources for schools) or on the incremental amount raised by indexing the tax to inflation.

That way, the public would be raising taxes on itself, not the Republican Legislature. Clever.

It’s not clever Ben, it’s chicken shit - pardon the expression - that’s what it is. And how they would they propose making up that money taken from education is anyone’s guess. But mostly let’s make sure we have this straight. The leadership in this state has created a massive transportation problem due to their lack of responsibility on this issue. Instead of doing what’s right and raising the money needed, by using a broad and fair tax, they instead want to shirk their duty, once again, and waste money by having a special session, in order to pass a constitutional amendment, and forcing the people of Texas, to again, go to the polls to vote to raise the gas tax so Republicans won’t have to force families to move off their land and have it paved over so a Spanish company can profit from it? Yep, that’s chicken shit!

John Carter Voted Against “The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act”

Posted in District 31, Around The Nation, Williamson County at 9:03 am by wcnews

There’s are a couple of very good descriptions of the bill here and here (.PDF). Also check out this article from DefenseNews. There’s quite a bit in the bill but here is its main focus:

  • Ensures that U.S. forces in the field have all of the resources they require;
  • Directs more resources to the war again al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan;
  • Improves healthcare for returning service members and veterans; and,
  • Sets a timeline for ending U.S. participation in Iraq’s civil war.

Yesterday in committee Rep. John Carter voted against this bill. Why? Well we get some clue from this post on his blog, Cutting Pork from the Emergency War Supplemental. It’s not time to call John Carter unpatriotic for not supporting the troops, although some may see it that way, I think what Mr. Carter is doing is even more cynical than that. He’s playing cheap political games and trying to score political points with needed funding for our soldiers and Marines in the battle field, and our veterans. Also pay close attention to the “Readiness” portion of the bill. To find out why this part is so important, read this article from the Hartford Courant, Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight.

Rep. John Carter’s vote against funding the troops gives us an insight into his true character. No matter when he says he’s for Ensuring the Best Care for Our Servicemen and Women, his actions don’t match his rhetoric. If supporting the troops, also means he has to appropriate money to the Gulf Coast which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina then count him out. And if supporting the troops means holding the President accountable and making sure our soldiers and Marines are well rested, well prepared, have healthcare, have body armor, and armored Humvees then you can count out the Congressman whose district includes the largest Military Base in the United States of America. He’ll vote the party line instead.

03.20.07

With Veto Proof Majority, Veto Sessions Become A Bigger Issue

Posted in 80th Legislature, Road Issues at 11:37 pm by wcnews

From the comments on the post below on the veto proof majority this was mentioned:

Yeah, but here’s the problem. Unless the bill passes QUICKLY Perry can wait until after the session to veto it. The one power the Governor of Texas has is, in effect, an absolute veto. Supporters of the Pave Texas Corridor have only to drag their feet.

That being the case, If the TTC moratorium bill was passed lat in session, all Perry would have to do is wait, and the TTC moratorium would die. Passing veto sessions through the lege would add another check to the governor’s power. Gardner Selby from the AAS explains the issue very well, Lawmakers seek extra session to reverse late vetoes.

With hardly a peep from Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Texas lawmakers appear ready to ask voters to give them a new chance to override gubernatorial vetoes in brief sessions occurring after legislative sessions.

House members are slated to act todayon House Joint Resolution 59, a proposed constitutional amendment originated by Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston.

I don’t expect anybody to vote against it,” Elkins said Tuesday.

Twenty-five state senators are sponsoring a similar proposal. Texas voters “will be voting on it in November,” predicted Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the lead sponsor.

Proposed constitutional amendments reach voters if they win approval by a two-thirds’ margins of the House and Senate. They do not require a governor’s sign-off.

[…]

Elkins said he drafted the proposal, which drew no testimony pro or con at a hearing, after override sessions in other states came up during his conversations with legislators from other states at a conference. Eleven states have override sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lawmakers can override vetoes by two-thirds’ votes of each body, but it’s a rare event. Texas governors have issued more than 2,000 vetoes since 1856, including 153 approved by Perry since he became governor in late 2000. Some 50 vetoes have been overridden, with the first override occurring in 1859 and the latest in 1979, according to the Legislative Reference Library.

The proposed amendment attempts to address the reality that a veto cannot be overridden if legislators are not in session.

The Texas Legislature holds 140-day regular sessions every two years. Members do not gather otherwise unless called into a special session by the governor.

Under the constitution, the governor has 10 days after receiving legislation to sign or veto it. Signing the legislation passes it into law, while vetoing it returns it to the Legislature with a veto message presenting reasons for the rejection. If lawmakers are in session at the time of the veto, legislators may attempt to reverse the veto or perhaps approve a modified proposal addressing the governor’s qualms.

But many measures are sent to the governor within 10 days of the session’s end. The governor can cast vetoes after a session, leaving legislators unable to react because they are not in session.

The proposed tweak would authorize a special session solely to consider overrides of vetoes issued within three days of the end of a session and in the following weeks.

The session could last up to three days and cost $75,000 to $100,000 for legislative and incidental expenses. During the session, which would occur after the last day for the governor to issue vetoes, members could review vetoes of all legislation, including items vetoed from the state budget.

If the constitutional tweak advances, it might be seen as another sign of the GOP-majority Legislature rethinking gubernatorial authority.

Another tool in the legislative tool box, shall we say. I don’t think this will do anything for bills vetoed this session, please correct me if I’m wroing. So the commenter’s remarks still stand. For the TTC moratorium veto to be overridden this session the lege needs to act fast. Otherwise the Texas GOP candidates will have a lot of ’splainin to do in ‘08.

TTC Moratorium Bills Have Veto Proof Majorities In Both Chambers

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Williamson County at 3:03 pm by wcnews

Checking the Corridor Watch page that has the running total it’s 25 in the Senate and 105 in the House. As the blog Move It! informs us, “Put simply: 25 senators + 101 representatives = veto proof.”

Go check out the SAEN transportation blog Move It! because it has some great information on an upcoming Senate hearing tomorrow. Show up at the hearing or tune in, either way it should be fun.

Rep. John Carter’s Blog & Unanswerd Questions

Posted in District 31, Williamson County at 10:36 am by wcnews

There’s not much of substance in the posts on Rep. Carter’s blog. They appear to be nothing more than the same or similar GOP talking point laden editorials that he gets printed in the small town papers around the district. The interesting part of it are the comments to his posts. Especially to his recent post, Supporting Our Troops With Words and Actions. It has a few rah-rah, misinformed comments to begin with, and then it gets serious, excerpts below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Auditors Report On State Parks Reinforces Need For Funding

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State at 9:50 am by wcnews

That’s what I take from the Startlegram article, Agency lost fees, inflated visit data, and the report. The title of the article helps reinforce the “startle” in Starlegram. Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Robert L. Cook gives the other side.

Cook took exception to the suggestion that the agency lost millions of dollars in entrance fees.

He noted that visitation estimates dropped from more than 20 million in 2003 to less than 10 million in 2006, and at the same time receipts increased from $22.4 million to $33.1 million.

“While there is a relationship between visitation estimates and revenue collected, there are many variables that come into play — these variables include unpaid visits that take place after hours or in places we are not currently staffed to collect fees,” he said in a prepared response to the report.

“We believe that improving documentation of state park visitation will demonstrate that we did not ‘lose’ $16 million in potential entrance fees.”

The report points to deficiencies at our state parks, many of which are caused by the “flat” funding it’s received in recent years.

In a report issued Monday, the State Auditor’s Office cites several findings about the operations of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:The department lacks adequate controls to ensure that park visitation data and revenue reporting for individual state parks are accurate

There are significant deficiencies in the department’s budgeting process that hinder its ability to ensure that resources are allocated in a reasonable manner

Financial control weaknesses have led the department to underestimate its revenue and to produce inaccurate financial reports

The department “does not have an effective marketing strategy and tools to promote visitation.”

The fear is that this report will be used to justify the continued transfer of money, via the sporting goods tax, away from our state parks because of this “supposed” mismanagement.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said the findings should not deter lawmakers from providing full funding for parks. His group and other parks advocates have called for reallocating all money from the sporting goods tax to Texas parks.

That would lead to about a $90 million annual increase. But he noted House budget writers have included only about a quarter of that amount in the current version of spending legislation.

Although the process is still in an early phase, he said the inclusion of only about $23 million in new money could portend a bad legislative session for Texas parks.

“The report should be taken seriously, but it should not stand in the way of full funding for the agency and for our parks,” he said.

If we fully fund our state parks they will be able to get all the problems that came up in this audit fixed. It’s the neglect of our state parks that have allowed them to rot and decay, literally, and it needs to stop this session. Call your elected representatives today about Rep. Harvey Hilderbran’s bill to fix this, HB 12. Especially any who’s members are on the Culture, Recreation, & Tourism Committee, and urge them to give the bill a hearing and soon. (Anyone in the Austin area Rep.’s Dukes and Howard are on that committee).

Oh This Is Funny

Posted in 2008 Primary, Around The Nation, Around The State at 8:45 am by wcnews

Wayne Slater at the DMN has an article up about how the Texas GOP insiders - their SREC which is comparable to the Democratic Party’s SDEC - are not very enthusiastic about their filed so far. Here’s the article, Giuliani? McCain? State GOP loyalists not impressed. The leader right now is Gingrich. Here are a few candidate specific comments:

McCain:
“I can definitely tell you that if John McCain were the candidate, I probably wouldn’t vote,” said Ellen Guthrie, a committee member from Tyler. She and others cited Mr. McCain’s push of campaign finance legislation and his past conflicts with Christian conservatives.

[…]

Gingrich:
Mr. Gingrich recently admitted his past marital infidelity on James Dobson’s Christian radio show, saying his affair with a House aide was at the same time he was attacking Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Mr. Moore of Spring, who said he’d like to see a Gingrich-Jeb Bush ticket in 2008, called the affair “a minor tarnish” on an otherwise strong conservative resume.

“If he didn’t have the extramarital affair, he’d be as perfect as Reagan in every other way,” Mr. Moore said. (He is as perfect as Reagan who was divorced too).- eow

[…]

Giuliani:
“We need a strong candidate with good name ID and a good record and someone who’s well liked and can garner some votes from independent Americans. And I think Giuliani is that guy,” said John Fowler, a GOP committee member from Dallas.

But others question whether religious conservatives would embrace a candidate such as Mr. Giuliani because of some of his moderate views on social issues.

“I’m certainly not going to support somebody that I don’t think is going to hold spending down and continue to fight the battle for the Reagan social conservative agenda,” said Jane Cansino of Lubbock. “So it’s not just about pragmatism, it’s about principle.”

[…]

Romney:
“He lives his values, not just talks about them,” said Tim Hoy of Dallas.

“Many of my fellow Christians may have doubts about him being a Mormon. But if you look at the predominantly Mormon state of Utah, they have a young average population age and yet a low rate of crime, out-of-wedlock births and a high rate of intact families,” he said. “If Mormonism is a cult, with those characteristics, I would suggest that’s a cult we could use more of.”

Still, some members said they were suspicious.

“When I look at Mitt, to me he looks plastic. I’m afraid he’s just mouthing the words,” said Russ Duerstine of San Angelo. “He says a lot of the right things, but I’m not sure he’s for real.”

I don’t know about you but that’s funny stuff and I left out the pro-Tancredo, pro-Duncan Hunter comments.

03.19.07

How Does This Happen In Williamson County? - UPDATED

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 3:46 pm by wcnews

EOW has given Williamson County DA John Bradley credit for his stance on Jessica’s Law, and deservedly so. But we’ve also mentioned that he’s been on the wrong side of the probation reform debate, he’s not for letting criminals off the hook early. That’s why this seems very odd, Williamson deputy constable pleads guilty to solicitation of minor. ([UPDATE]: AAS updated article. It now has more info and quotes from DA Bradley).

A former Williamson County deputy constable pleaded guilty Monday to criminal solicitation of a minor, a third-degree felony.

Under a plea agreement, Roger Proctor will receive five years of deferred adjudication — a form of probation — a $2,500 fine and possibly 30 days in jail, said Tim Inman, Proctor’s attorney. Formal sentencing is set for May 1.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said his office was recommending that Proctor be required to permanently give up his peace officer license.

Proctor, 52, was charged in June with two counts of indecency with a child by contact, a second-degree felony.

A 15-year-old girl told the Williamson County sheriff’s department in June that Proctor had been touching her breasts since she was about 8 years old, an arrest affidavit said.

The victim’s older brother initially notified the sheriff’s department.

Bradley said going through a trial would have been too difficult for the victim.

“Based on not wanting to do any further damage to her, we were pleased with the result,” he said.

Proctor was put on paid administrative leave in June and was dishonorably discharged in September, county spokeswoman Connie Watson said.

Inman said Proctor no longer lives in Williamson County.

Through Watson, Precinct 3 Constable Bobby Gutierrez declined to comment.

This is a very, very light sentence for a crime of this nature in Williamson County. He didn’t even get convicted of abuse, the plead to solicitation. It just doesn’t seem right that this guy gets off without any jail time. I guess there’ll be a good explanation coming for this.

A Few Items

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State at 11:18 am by wcnews

Clay Robison had two recent articles that are worth checking out:

This one on where we stand right now in the lege, The Legislature: Halfway through, long way to go. In the print version he scored the issues this way:

Passed: Senior Tax Cuts.
Alive: Budget, TAKS, Trans-Texas Corridor, HPV Vaccine, TYC Reform and Lower Appraisal Cap.
Maybe, Maybe Not: Top 10 Percent Law, Border Security.
Dead or Dying: Vouchers, Tuition Freeze, CHIP Expansion, Gambling, Lottery Sale.

It’s good to see vouchers, gambling and the lottery sale on the dead or dying list but ceratinly not a tuition freeze and CHIP expansion. This may be one of those “do-nothing” sessoins. That would not bode well for the current leadership, especially if they don’t get something done on the TTC.

His second article is on Perry’s forgotten number one issues of the session, ‘Appraisal creep’ is losing battle.

Add another looming failure for the governor with the not-so-golden touch.It hasn’t gotten the attention that opposition to his HPV vaccine order, his Trans-Texas Corridor or his proposed lottery sale has sparked, but the 2007 edition of Gov. Rick Perry’s protracted campaign against “appraisal creep” is quietly dying in the statehouse.

Another failure indeed.

One issue that is also losing attention that definitely deserves more is probation reform. The Startlegram has an article up today on this issue, Probation overhaul hits resistance. This is another issue, like Jessica’s Law, that cannot be dealt with and understood in sound bites. We must wrap our minds around the concept that if we spend more money on the front end - better supervision and drug and alcohol rehab - we can save much more on the back end - less in life time incarceration, death row housing, and recidivism. That’s just the monetary costs, there’s no telling how much we’d save in human costs, in lives and families saved and rehabilitated.

Tom DeLay Got Skewered On Meet The Press Yesterday

Posted in Commentary, Around The Nation at 10:08 am by wcnews

I stayed up late last night and watched the Midnight rerun of “Meet The Press” this morning on MSNBC. I’m glad I did. Tom DeLay may be a skilled backroom politician but his debate skills are weak and he’s no match for retired Navy Admiral Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), Think Progress has the video. It was almost painful to watch Tom DeLay’s use weak, well worn, 5 year-old GOP talking points in his meager attempt to make a case for keeping our soldiers and Marines in Iraq. Perle was just as bad. And little-Russ only pimped his new work of fiction once.

Rep. Joe Sestak and Tom Andrews of Win Without War did a great job. I think it’s great to have Tom DeLay on TV getting skewered like this. There were a couple of times I thought ‘ol Tom was going to cry. Rep. Sestak’s even measured tone through the debate served him very well. Hopefully we will get more even-handed debates like this on the Sunday shows now that Democrats are back in charge of Congress.

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