AusChron On T. Don Hutto

Posted in Williamson County, T. Don Hutto at 12:22 pm by wcnews

Here’s the article, National Spotlight Shines on Detention Center. They do an excellent job, as usual, of showing the true colors of those in charge of our government in Williamson County.

Williamson County commissioners may be living to regret that the county’s former overflow jail, the newly infamous T. Don Hutto Residential Center, did not invoke immediate self-scrutiny once it was converted to a federal detention center in December 2005.


What a difference a year has made, as this big bang of bad press was foreshadowed by nary a whimper on Dec. 27, the day the Commissioners Court ratified the contract with Corrections Corporation of America, which would serve as the “provider” with WilCo the sponsor and ICE the regulator. Before the vote, Sheriff James Wilson and Assistant County Auditor Julie Kiley soft-peddled the deal as relatively easy money, which would require not much more than a signature and net the county about $200,000 per year.


At that point, just more than a year ago, the local press announced the arrangement without questioning it, and the county did little more than cash the checks – until detainees voiced concerns, that is. Only last month did commissioners themselves tour TDH – again, under pressure.


Unless vindicated, WilCo will remain – at least in the court of public opinion – the county that jails innocent children for a cut off the top.

I hope they put that on their campaign signs next time they run.

Gardner’s Latest

Posted in Commentary, 80th Legislature, The Budget at 11:57 am by wcnews

A Shorter Gardener Selby:

The Democrats in the legislature “may” have lost an opportunity to get funds for higher education and health care because they didn’t throw in with a Republican plan that no Republican will take credit for.

Because the “weak three” are always so willing to deal with the Democrats.

Senate Votes To Bust The Cap

Posted in 80th Legislature, The Budget at 9:13 am by wcnews

HChron has the story, Senate backs spending-cap exemption in vote. The ball is now in Tom Craddick’s court, or chamber,and this will have a much tougher time in the House. (See posts below).

Here are the yeas and nays on the vote on SCR 20 in the Senate yesterday. (Three R’s crossed over only one D):

Yeas: Averitt, Brimer, Carona, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Hegar, Jackson, Janek, Lucio, Odgen, Seliger, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Ellis, Hinojosa, Nelson, Nichols, Patrick, Shapleigh, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Absent-excused: Gallegos, Shapiro.

But as Vince shows us via QR the biggest problem with this vote was the game Dewhurst played in the Senate and his branding this issue non-substantive.

During a lengthy parliamentary inquiry from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), Dewhurst said he considered the Ogden resolution “non-substantive,” which allowed for the lower vote threshold. Van de Putte questioned how a vote to override a provision in the Texas Constitution could be non-substantive.

Because he’s a Republican, that’s how.


Toll Road Privatization Schemes Get Blasted At Congressional Hearing

Posted in Around The State, Around The Nation, Road Issues, Privatization at 4:07 pm by wcnews

A recent commenter pointed me to the site of Land Line Magazine, The Business Magazine for Professional Truckers. Let’s just suffice it to say that roads are these people’s business and they take issues with roads very serious. They have a special report about a committee hearing that was held yesterday, Public-private partnerships hammered in congressional hearing. It was a hearing of The Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to be exact. Some really great stuff in the report, excerpts are below the fold:

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What’s The Deal With The Spending Cap?

Posted in 80th Legislature, The Budget at 12:02 pm by wcnews

Raising the constitutionally mandated spending cap is not hard. When the cap was added to the Texas Constitution included was a simple way, if it was ever needed, to raise the cap.

“When the voters established the spending cap in 1978, they gave the Legislature the power to adjust the cap by a simple majority vote,” said Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “There is no reason to go back to the voters again.”

More than likely, when this cap was added, it wasn’t anticipated that Texas would have to deal with a school finance scheme like the one that was passed last summer, nor the weak leadership we currently have in Texas. This issue was created by the school finance scheme, bad public policy, cobbled together by Perry, Craddick and Dewhurst. Let’s not forget that the only reason the cap is an issue is because of the tax swap scheme they passed. It only makes sense that they raise the cap to allow their tax swap scheme to move forward. That’s what leaders would do. Seriously, if they can’t justify doing this to themselves or their constituents, their reasoning for voting to raise the cap, that’s a pretty damning indictment of the scheme they passed last year. A bunch of scared Republicans that don’t want to accept the consequences of their actions. It would be shocking if it wasn’t such a regular occurrence.

The constitutional amendment route to a solve thisb is running out of time fast and is all but dead.

The Senate’s longest-serving member said Tuesday that there were enough unhappy senators to block consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment that would link a spending-cap fix to tax cuts for senior citizens.

And in the House, a veteran Democrat said he had faced down GOP leaders with the threat of an embarrassing floor defeat this week if they don’t separate the thorny spending-limit issue and the popular cause of granting tax cuts to elderly homeowners.

Neither Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst nor House Speaker Tom Craddick appears to have a firm feel for which “fix” would be the smoothest way to extricate the Legislature – and the cuts in local school-property taxes that lawmakers approved last year – from a state spending limit that voters approved in 1978.

The Democrats are offering the sensible solution to this Republican made quandary. No wasteful constitutional amendment vote is needed. Here’s Rep. Jim Dunnam’s statement on what should be done.

“I find it incredible that any member of the Legislature would vote to bust the state spending cap without first seeing a real budget,” said Dunnam, who serves as House Democratic Caucus leader. “We are in this position because of the irresponsible fiscal policies of Gov. Rick Perry and (House Speaker) Tom Craddick and four years of budgeting that created this crisis. Busting the state spending cap without first seeing a budget simply gives them another blank check to continue their gross fiscal mismanagement of our state,” Dunnam said. “I agree with the AARP that it is wrong to hold our seniors hostage. We should immediately vote to give Texas seniors the property tax relief they deserve, then separately debate the issue of busting the state spending cap on its own merits. We should have all the information before taking the unprecedented step of authorizing excess spending,” Dunnam said.

Let’s debate the budget, and allow Texans to see what kind of shenanigans Speaker Craddick and his band of far-fight Republicans are going to try, before we allow them to bust the spending cap. Sounds reasonable.


Perry’s PR Machine Cranks Up Over Lottery Privatization Scheme

Posted in Around The State, Privatization at 11:54 pm by wcnews

It’s been nothing but a series of bad stories on the lottery sale since Gov. Perry announced the scheme. (Sale price now $20 million, Phil Gramm enters, his son’s new job). To try and limit the damage Perry’s PR machine has cranked up, Governor’s deputy chief talks about selling the Lottery, to inform us that it’s all innocent and happened by chance.

The first mention of selling the state lottery came six months ago during a phone conversation between two old friends talking about a reunion.

Phil Wilson, Gov. Rick Perry’s deputy chief of staff, was asking his former boss, Phil Gramm, a retired Republican U.S. senator turned investment banker, what he was working on nowadays.

Selling lotteries, he said.

That casual conversation and an unsolicited call from a competing investment firm led to two separate pitches from investment bankers to Wilson in the fall and follow-up meetings from the same firms over the past two weeks.

Can’t tell whether Gramm called Wilson or vice-versa.

On Tuesday, Wilson, flanked by Perry’s press secretary, Robert Black, sat down to set the record straight about issues surrounding the sale of the lottery, particularly questions about who might benefit and how the idea was born.

News reports have raised questions about whether former Perry staffers who are now lobbyists might benefit; whether the sale is just a bone to Perry’s old political friend Gramm; and, finally, whether the governor’s son, Griffin, a recent economics graduate from Vanderbilt University, was hired by UBS as payback.

Black dismissed those concerns as ludicrous. He said that Perry had made no calls on his son’s behalf and that Griffin Perry, 23, works in the division dealing with management of individual wealth, not public financing.

Wilson retraced how UBS and Morgan Stanley became involved.

In August, Wilson said, he was talking to Gramm, his former boss, about a reunion of former Gramm staffers when the conversation turned to Gramm’s latest interest, selling lotteries. (Before joining the governor’s office, Wilson worked for Gramm from 1991 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2002, the last time as the senator’s state director.)

Wilson said that within two weeks, he got an unrelated call from bankers at Morgan Stanley asking whether Texas might want to sell its lottery.

During the fall, Perry was focused on winning re-election, but Wilson was noticing that other states, including California and Massachusetts, were starting programs to provide health insurance to the uninsured.

Wilson was looking for a way to do it without new taxes or employer mandates.

Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, said his firm called Wilson because of another national trend: The sale of transportation projects such as the Chicago Skyway and Indianapolis toll roads prompted public officials and investment bankers to look at other public assets that might be sold.

“The success of those projects,” Lake said, “got people thinking.”

And there it is. Former US Senators turned investment bankers brokering deals, and profiting from, the sale of public assets. The GOP’s new plan to kill government, privatize it and charge out the wazoo, then nobody will be able to afford the services.

Raise Your Hand For Common Sense

Posted in Around The Nation, Public Schools, Vouchers at 9:06 pm by wcnews

There were snippets about this earlier today. The Startlegram has this article, Leaders join anti-voucher group, about a new group created to help counter the pro- voucher crowd.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff joined several high-profile Texas business leaders Tuesday to announce a public education advocacy group that’s opposed to private school vouchers and wants to replace the state’s standardized tests.

Called Raise Your Hand, the bipartisan group includes the chief executives of AT&T, Continental Airlines and H-E-B. Its other priorities include all-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten for every 4- and 5-year-old in the state, as well as a lower student-to-teacher ratio.

This group will fit nicely I’m sure with Parent PAC. HEB was already helping them last election cycle. We need much more of this school finance debate:

“We don’t understand how it is that if you have a campus with 500 children and 100 somehow . . . take advantage of the voucher and go somewhere else, how does that affect the other 400?” Ratliff said. “If it’s a bad school and we take a hundred of them out with vouchers, it’s still a bad school. We believe a far better course . . . is fix the school. Don’t abandon 400 children for the sake of the hundred.”

The group wants to replace the high-stakes exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills with end-of-course exams.

Thank you Mr. Ratliff for helping to bring common sense and logic back into the forefront of this debate.

Texa Democrtic Party Sues Secretary Of State Roger Williams

Posted in Around The State at 2:41 pm by wcnews


“With this lawsuit, the Texas Democratic Party is taking steps to safeguard the accuracy and security of each voter’s ballot and ensure Texas voters have confidence in our election system,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie. “Protecting the integrity of the electoral process is not a partisan issue. Every voter deserves to cast their ballot with full faith that their voice will be heard, regardless of their political affiliation.”

On the eSlate machines, when a voter chooses a straight-ticket vote and then continues to select candidates of the same political party to “emphasize” their vote, the machine actually records the vote for that race as a no vote. This is inconsistent with the tabulation of absentee paper ballots in those counties, as well as electronic voting machines used in other counties across the state. The irregularities relating to the eSlate voting system have affected the outcome at least one race, located in Madison County. However, there are 101 other Texas counties that employed these machines in the 2006 election.

Excellent news!! There’s more, click the link above.

Corona v. Williamson - Update/Video

Posted in Around The State, Road Issues, 80th Legislature at 1:10 pm by wcnews

Sen. Carona is quickly becoming the stand-up guy in the Texas Legislature for the people of Texas when it comes to transportation issues. What happened today, when Sen Carona was invited to the House Transportation Committee by Rep. Krusee, will only help his cause:

Granted the floor, Carona said that he’d tried to get on Williamson’s calendar and had been told it was full into March. So, he asked Williamson, will you commit here and now to meet with me this week?

“You are a clever guy,” Williamson said, trying to keep the moment light. “I look forward to meeting with you.”

Yes, but will you meet this week, Carona pressed? Williamson was non-committal. They went around the track a couple more times in this way, then Carona dropped the pretense of collegiality. Williamson was “arrogant,” he said, and engaging in “artful dodging.” A final time, he asked for a meeting this week.

Williamson paused. “Frankly Senator,” he said finally, “I’m speechless.”

What does Rep. Krusee do? He protects his man of course.

Carona left shortly thereafter and the hearing continued. Krusee and state Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, later offered words of apology to Williamson for the episode, and Krusee quickly called Carona to set up a meeting. A meeting between Krusee and Carona, that is.

“I think we’re all better off when we’re discussing policy, and not personalities,” Krusee said after the meeting. He said that would be his message for Carona.

Gee Mike that was nice of you to apologize to your buddy like that. It’s very wrong that the Chair of the Senate Committee has to go through Rep. Krusee to get a meeting with the head of TxDOT. Now we know who’s running the transportation show in our state. After this it’s obvious that Ric Williamson thinks he doesn’t have to talk to a Senator until his minion sets up a meeting.

[UPDATE]: Sal’s got the video of the back-and-forth.

The Unintended, But Expected, Consequences Of Bad Public Policy

Posted in Had Enough Yet?, 80th Legislature, The Budget, Public Schools at 12:26 pm by wcnews

There’s always unintended consequences. In this case they may have been unintended but they definitely weren’t unexpected. Last summer when the legislature passed it’s “temporary band-aid” policy for school finance it was clear that this was not a long term fix for public schools in Texas. If you’ll remember this plan was passed because something had to be passed, or schools would not open on time, not because it was good public policy. And as Garnet Coleman told us way back in ‘05, “.. it’s hard to get an agreement on bad public policy, it’s easy to get an agreement on good public policy”.

This bad public policy was passed because of the weak leadership (Perry, Craddick, Dewhurst) we have in Texas. But when attempting to fix something, and a “quick fix” is applied, things don’t necessarily turn out the way they were supposed to. Which brings us the the problem currently facing our weak leaders, increasing the spending cap. Their “bold” plan has now forced these leaders back into their shells and they don’t feel so “bold” about what needs to be done to fix their “quick fix”.

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