Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NEW WEBSITE FOR EYE ON WILLIAMSON COUNTY!

Please change your bookmarks. All new content will be on the new site. The new website is:

www.eyeonwilliamson.org





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TTRC Report Is Out

Go to there site to download the report and draft of the tax bill, TTRC

[UPDATE]: AAS story, Perry, Sharp unveil school funding proposal.


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Perry Offers Propaganda As TTRC Is Set To Release Its Report Today

The governor has learned his lesson and has the media carrying his message loud and clear. He sat down a bunch of editorial page editors and told them that this proposal is fair and family friendly, no matter what the reality is. And it appears they got the message even though early LBB reports show that the wealthy fair much better. Also keep in mind this does nothing to solve the funding issue for public schools.

Taxing business:
The plan unveiled today by the Texas Tax Reform Commission would accomplish those minimal, essential goals, but it has much more to recommend it. Not least, it would not repeat the sin of earlier proposals that would have taken more money from the poor and conveyed it to the rich.

The commission, chaired by former state Comptroller John Sharp, does wish to sharply raise the tax on cigarettes, which are increasingly an unhealthy delicacy of the poor. However, taxpayers can escape this tax and improve their health by quitting, which an onerous tax would encourage.
Perry proposal cuts taxes for all income groups:
"By raiding the surplus to pay for a property-tax cut, Perry is proposing a plan that is still $1 billion short of inadequate because it forgets one very important thing: schools," Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell said through a spokesman.

[...]

Tax reduction

$14,042 and below...1.4

$14,042-$23,872...0.9

$23,872-$33,190...0.9

$33,190-$43,403...1.2

$43,403-$53,968...1.1

$53,968-$67,019...1.4

$67,019-$82,976...1.5

$82,976-$104,865...2.0

$104,865-$146,804...2.8

$146,804 and more...3.3

Source: Legislative Budget Board analysis
I'll bet he could've got that billion he's lacking if he kept that tax cut to 1.4/1.5 for the wealthy too.

Tax plan reduces families' burden:
Texas families at all income levels would get a tax break -– with the wealthiest Texans receiving the biggest relief -– under a massive tax-swap plan that Gov. Rick Perry and his Texas Tax Reform Commission will unveil today.
Of course those with the most deserve the most tax relief!?

And of course they take it out on smokers, and poor smokers the most, If you don't puff, you'll get a break in tax proposal:
Nonsmoking Texans at all income levels would see a net, modest reduction in taxes under a proposed tax overhaul to be formally unveiled today by Gov. Rick Perry.

Wealthier Texans, however, would realize about three times the savings, proportionately, as low-income taxpayers, according to a Legislative Budget Board analysis of the tradeoff for lower school taxes.

[...]

The tobacco tax increase, which would hit poorer smokers harder, was omitted from the analysis, because it would have had a negative impact on the overall projected savings.
Perception is reality and if the media says it it's got to be true.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chairman Soechting To Speak At Sun City Democrats Meeting On Saturday

Sun City Democrats & Friends


Regular Club Meeting: Saturday, April 1, 2006
Place: Sun City Activities Center Atrium
Time: 9:30 - 10:00: Coffee and Social time
10:00: Regular Meeting

    Program:
  • Our speaker will be Charles Soechting, Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Mr. Soechting is a fifth generation Texan, a lifelong Democrat and an excellent speaker. Try not to miss his presentation!
  • Mr. Soechting practices law in San Marcos, TX. He was elected to his full term as Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, at the Texas Democratic Convention in June of 2004. Previously, he had been elected in October of 2003 at a meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee to serve out an unexpired term as Chair of the Texas Democratic Party. Soechting was previously the Hays County Democratic Chair and Texas Democratic Party General Counsel. He will be resigning his post as Chair of the Texas Democratic Party at the Texas Democratic Convention in June of 2006.
Be sure and check their web site, www.suncitydemocrats.com for more details.


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More On The Upcoming Sessoin and The TTRC

Perry not only became governor when Bush became president but he also got a time bomb left for him, Perry is under a gun that George Bush never faced:
AMONG the Texas accomplishments that then-Gov. George W. Bush touted during his first successful campaign for president six years ago were his effective working relationship with Democratic legislative leaders and his ability to cut taxes.

Both the Democratic leaders and the tax reductions back home are now as long gone as the "Mission Accomplished" banner that Commander-in-Chief Bush once unfurled over the Iraqi war. They have disappeared, along with the good political fortune that favored Bush during his statehouse years.
More special speculation, Will Carole bedevil the Big Three?:
Let's have a bit of masochistic fun.

Let's run a scenario on the Texas Legislature's attempt to reform the school tax system, as the state Supreme Court says it must by June 1.
And two from out west:

They're for the quick fix, State leaders facing tough choices:
The biggest problem that may face our lawmakers this session is being distracted by too many issues. Several lawmakers have said they also want to tackle such items as high school reform and merit pay for teachers.

We hold that it would be to our advantage to tackle school reforms and teacher incentive programs at another time. First and foremost, we should be tackling the finance portion of the agenda. In light of failure of past attempts at solving the school funding issue, there are enough problems associated with school financing than taking on other items even though they may be of great importance to the education of our students in Texas.
And read this one in case you were wondering what the oil and gas industry will get out of the coming tax swap proposal, The Sharp Commission proposal: How will it affect oil producers?
So, how will this new tax affect the typical oil and gas operator? Let's assume your gross income is $l million per year (a good round number) and your permitted deductions total 50 percent of your gross income, giving you a profit "margin" of $500,000. You will pay $5,000 under this new tax plan.

How much do you stand to save in ad valorem taxes? I pay a total combined tax rate of approximately $2.30 per $100 of valuation in the counties in which I operate. If the school district in each of those counties is currently charging the maximum M&O rate of $1.50, I will save $0.50/$2.30, or approximately 22 percent of my total ad valorem tax bill. I have found over the years that ad valorem taxes on working interest properties typically run 4 - 4.5 percent of my gross revenue, about equal to the severance tax on oil. So, the "typical" company with $1 million in gross revenue is currently paying about $42,000 annually in advalorem taxes and will save 22 percent of that, or $9,200. It appears that our industry is not going to realize the hoped-for significant net reduction in overall tax burden (which would be justified because of the severance and other taxes that we pay), but we may come close to breaking even or better, at least initially.
I wonder if that will be a sticking point in the House? You know the Speaker being from Midland and all? I think the oil and gas industry is pretty important there.


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Tuition Deregulation Paying Off, But For Who?

Here's what the governor had to say back in '03:
I join Speaker Craddick in calling for tuition deregulation so our colleges have greater control over their dollars. In addition to any savings this may generate, it's a matter of principle. If we're going to appoint Boards of Regents, let's give them room to do the job.

By estimating higher education income better, reducing special item projects, and asking community colleges to pay a proportionate share of insurance costs, we could net $1.1 billion in savings and recovered costs.
It also appears that our own Senator Ogden was against tuition deregulation until he was, ahem, assured by the university systems that they would not abuse their power:

In order to gain support for tuition deregulation, the university systems assured members of the legislature they would not abuse the new power. According to the Houston Chronicle, on June 1, 2003, State Sen. Steve Ogden, whose district includes A&M, stated that members of the Texas A&M Board of Regents assured him that tuition rates would not increase dramatically.

On March 26, 2004, less than a year after reportedly telling Ogden that it would not abuse its power to set tuition rates, the Texas A&M Board of Regents increased tuition rates by 21 percent.


[UPDATE]: There's a great report and timeline of the tuition deregualation process here.

If that's not abusing their power I'd hate to see what abuse of power is. Here are the latest results of tuition deregulation. This will not be a problem since low and middle class incomes have been rising so fast lately, sarcasm of course.

UT tuition, fees may rise 9.6% in fall:
Tuition and mandatory fees for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin would rise by about $400 in the next two years, to an average of $4,050 a semester, under a proposal to be considered today by the school's governing board.

The plan for a 9.6 percent increase this fall and a 1.3 percent increase in the fall of 2007 has stirred little controversy on campus, where there seems to be a consensus that additional revenue is needed to pay for repairs, hire new faculty members and give raises to faculty and staff members.
A&M regents lean toward tuition hike:
Texas A&M University students would pay an additional 8.9 percent in tuition and fees this fall under a proposal the Board of Regents will consider Friday.
ACCD raises tuition and fees:
Trustees for the Alamo Community College District voted Thursday night to raise students' tuition and fees by 5 percent to offset inflation and a general slump in state money. This is the fourth year in a row tuition has risen.
UNT considers tuition increase of 5.2 percent:
University of North Texas administrators Tuesday proposed a 5.2 percent tuition increase that would push the cost of a full-time undergraduate education past $3,000 a semester.
Texas Tech tuition rising; more hours reduces rate:
Students attending Texas Tech University in the fall will see a 4.5 percent increase in tuition, the board of regents announced Friday.
[UPDATE]: Tech is still thinking or tinkering, Regents order more tinkering on tuition plan:
Texas Tech ended Thursday not knowing what or how it will charge undergraduate students next year after its governing board tabled discussion of tuition and fees.

Regents were leery of a plan that charges students more money for taking fewer classes, concerned that the proposed "incentives-based" plan would punish students who must work to afford school along with those just wanting lighter course loads.
It's always good to see the free market at work.

Chris Bell has a plan to end this, Higher Education in Texas: An Agenda for Opportunity:
Mainstream Texans understand that investing in our higher education system is a much better long-term economic development strategy then giving huge subsidies to big-box superstores. Higher education is the key to helping Texas remain at the cutting edge of tomorrow's economy. The next generation of Texans will join the New Mainstream only when we have a governor who shares these priorities.

Higher Education in Texas: An Agenda For Opportunity
  • Ending tuition deregulation to keep college affordable for middle class families.
  • Giving our public universities the state funding they need to remain world-class.
  • Giving students a break at the bookstore by making textbooks tax-free.
  • Vigorously defending the TEXAS Grant program and other initiatives to make a college degree accessible to all Texans willing to put in the hard work.
  • Recognize the role community colleges fill in our state's economic development.


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Monday, March 27, 2006

More Catch Up

Two via Off The Kuff:

First on the lack of ethics accountability from the Ethics Commission, You don't need to know:
The Texas Ethics Commission decided Friday that public officials who receive cash or other gifts don't have to disclose the value, stunning open-government advocates.

"This is absurd, dangerous and completely undermines the reform legislation," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

The seven commission members, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, wrestled with disclosure laws that compel public officials to report gifts over $250. The law calls for a description of the gift, and some commissioners said indicating simply "cash" - without an amount - satisfies the statute.

But government watchdogs told the commissioners that they are failing to enforce the clear meaning of the law, rendering it useless.

"This ruling leaves a big enough loophole to drive an armored truck full of money through," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which advocates for public disclosure. "All you would have to say is 'a truck.' "
Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam deserves all the credit for this. Here's Rep. Burnam's editorial from Friday on this subject, The elephants in the dark:
From Austin to Washington, Republican politicians and their cronies are destroying the public trust. For democracy to work, public business must be conducted in the light of day. Secrecy and nondisclosure have no place in honest and open government.

The ongoing controversy over Republican crony Bill Ceverha is a perfect illustration of the endemic secrecy and corruption in the Republican Party.
And Second a link to an HChron article on the declining state of women's health issues in Texas and the response form our Senator Steve Ogden, Who needs health care, anyway:
One of the House's most conservative Republicans, veteran Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum, who helped pass the state's ban on same-sex marriage and longs to outlaw abortion in Texas, joined efforts to thwart the provisions before they passed. He's still hoping Panhandle funding will be restored.

"I'm not for abortion. I'm pro-life. But I'm not anti-women's health," Chisum said. ''You have your mixed emotions about it, but actually, in the Texas Panhandle, they don't perform abortions, so it's unfortunate that they're one of the ones that got their funds cut."

Yet Republican Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden is skeptical of the outcries, saying the complaints seem more about "turf protection and employee protection" than denying women services.

"There is not a single piece of evidence that anybody has offered to suggest that those changes have hurt an individual out there," said Ogden, of Bryan. "I would argue that it could have conceivably helped."

Health department officials, for their part, still are evaluating the effects of the provisions and say they may reallocate unspent funding as early as May.

Critics fear that might be too little, too late.
That's a great back-and-forth. Chisum, who authored the same sex marriage bill cannot even go as far as Sen. Ogden is willing to go. Is Sen. Ogden anti-women's health?


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Playing Catch Up

After noticing this:
Mike Krusee, Gov. Perry's Freeway Toll Road lap dog, was late reporting his personal financial disclosure last week with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). Filing this document late triggers an automatic $500 fine. Krusee can fight the fine, with an administrative process that involves going before the TEC.
Sal Costello started wondering what Mike Krusee does for a living when he is not in his role as the "Godfather of Toll". Here's what he's found out so far:
This incident has caused me to look closer at his financial disclosures from past years. The TEC disclosers are supposed to give citizens an insight on where legislators make their money. Krusee has listed such nebulous sources of occupation as "consulting" and "legal services". This is strange since Krusee has NO college education for anything, and he's certainly not a lawyer.

In 2005, Mike Krusee, Wilco's House 52 State Rep, listed he received occupational income by being Vice President of Paramount Document Retrieval (PDR), 550 Westcott, Houston, TX 77007. The Secretary of State shows David M. Hasha being VP of PDR and Mike Krusee is not listed for any position at all.
Interesting.

Next I'm starting to think that the Republicans in the legislature are now willing to work with the teachers to bring about something more substantial than just Gov. Perry's crony commission tax swap. This article from the FWST is a good place to start, Politicians listening to teacher organizations. Nothing like taking down the chair of the Education Committee to get their attention. Did you hear that all of you that are opposed to the TTC? If you want them to take you seriously why not take out the chair of the Transportation Committee, aka, the "Godfather of Toll". There is an alternative, Karen Felthauser.

And last the AAS published a the right-wing-James-Leininger-think-tank editorial today which basically tries to make the case than anyone who wants to tax wealthy people is just envious. He goes to great lengths to show this but the funny thing is he never mentions the word greed.


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Friday, March 24, 2006

Report From Blackland Coalition Forum Tonight

Received this via email tonight:
I just came from the candidates forum in Seaton where Kinky, Strayhorn and Bell spoke. Strayhorn brought the standing room only hall to its feet and had every one clapping loudly. She is by far the best and most forceful speaker and better able to rally people who need to feel that someone at a higher level is going to back them in their cause.

Bell who I like, however came across as a really wishy-washy and would lose his train of thought during his speech. If people would clap while he was in the middle of a sentence, while Strayhorn just got more and more motivated when folks interrupted her with applause and laughter. No one there really seemed to take Kinky seriously at all and just laughed at his jokes.

I talked to Chris Bell briefly and I like him however. No one in the corridor's path is apt to vote for him. They are all die hard Republicans and they are all in Strayhorn's camp. My feeling and just my feeling and opinion is this that Republicans are going independent in the rural areas and are not going to vote Democratic unless they have no choice. If they have no choice they may vote Democratic for a strong candidate like Brig Mireles or Jim Stauber that they feel will represent them.

This of course is just my opinion. There were a lot of news media and photographers there so there should be some news out soon about the situation.

The PAC has not made a decision however they introduced Strayhorn 1st so thats may give you an idea where they are.
Standing room only! Sounds like it was fun and funny. Too bad Perry wasn't there.

[UPDATE] Statesman article on the Forum, Candidate forum focuses on Trans-Texas Corridor.


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Don't Forget The Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Tonight

Come see the governor defend his plan to give away Texas farm land to a Spanish owned corporation for the good of our state. Oh yeah, I forgot Gov. Perry won't be there:
Perry foes to attack corridor plan

Gov. Rick Perry's three challengers will gather tonight east of Temple for what is likely to be a two-hour attack on the GOP governor's Trans-Texas Corridor plan. The Blackland Coalition, formed a year ago in opposition to the proposed network of intrastate toll roads and rail lines, is hosting the forum on the plan and eminent domain. It begins at 7 p.m. at Seaton Star Hall, 10842 Texas 53.

Democrat Chris Bell as well as independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman (who are attempting to qualify for the November gubernatorial ballot) will give 15- to 20-minute speeches. All have said they oppose Perry's corridor plan as well as all or most toll roads.

Perry was invited but will not appear.
A few things here. First, notice the title by the AAS. Makes it sound like just a bunch of people sitting around complaining. The Blackland Coalition was formed to give voice to those who didn't have one in our current state government. What else were they supposed to do? Certainly their state representation wasn't voicing these constituents opposition to this plan. In actuality one of they were instrumental in shepherding - I personally like the moniker of the "Highway Twins" - this plan through the legislature. Second, it mentions nothing about the fact that this "proposed network of intrastate toll roads and rail lines" will be taking away family farms and some of the best farmland in Texas and has had little, if any, public input about it's proposed path. And last, If this is such a good plan shouldn't Gov. Perry be able to attend an event like this and defend his plan?

Get the details for the event here.


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OTG Caves, Stops Payment To Federalist Group Too

With pressure from BOR, Strayhorn Received Money from Maloney's Lobby Group:
Strayhorn Ignored Lobby Group That Donates Generously to Republicans -including Strayhorn Campaign

At least one of Maloney’s Federalist Group partners, Wayne Berman, contributed $5,000 to the Strayhorn campaign on October 19, 2002. (Source: Texas Ethics Commission)

The Lone Star Project disclosed in a report issued on November 18, 2005 that former Tom DeLay senior staff member Drew Maloney, who leads the Federalist Group’s Texas lobby effort from Washington, has contributed over $6,500 directly to DeLay and $22,750 to Texas Republican Congressmen since the contract was signed. Other associates at the Federalist Group have added thousands of dollars to Texas Republican’s campaign accounts. (Source: Houston Chronicle 1/19/2006 and Federal Election Commission)

Drew Maloney gave no money to Texas Democrats (Source: Federal Election Commission)

Maloney joined other Federalist Group members in sponsoring a Washington, DC fundraising event for DeLay on November 17, 2005. (Source: Roll Call, 11/17/2005)
And more pressure from Chris Bell, Bell slams payments to state's outside lobbyists:
Bell on Thursday said Strayhorn also should have cut off payments to Texas' other outside lobbyists, the Federalist Group. The Washington-based group's lead lobbyist for Texas is Drew Maloney, a former top aide to DeLay who had raised money to help Republicans take control of the Texas House in the 2002 elections.

"If she were really serious about shutting down the cash-and-carry system that (Gov.) Rick Perry has set up, she wouldn't show favoritism to Tom DeLay's good friends at the Federalist Group," Bell said.
With that showing the blatant hypocrisy of her actions or incaction, OTG has now stopped the payments to the second firm in our Republican controlled state governments crony-lobbyist payment scheme. She tried to cover it up but Kathy Walt is there to help out:
Matt Angle, with the Democratic Lone Star Project, noted that Strayhorn in 2002 took a $5,000 contribution from one of Maloney's lobby partners, Wayne Berman.

But Strayhorn spokesman Will Holford said the comptroller did not have to freeze the Federalist payments because the state-federal relations office has not put in a request for payment for the firm since October.

Holford said the company has a contract to lobby for the state through August 2007 for a total amount not to exceed $220,000. The Federalist Group had been paid at a rate of $15,000 a month.

Holford said Strayhorn's auditors will be looking at payments to both Cassidy and Federalists. If any improper spending is discovered, he said, she will seek a refund from the companies.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Strayhorn's office was wrong and the Federalist Group has received at least two state checks since October 2005.

Walt issued a detailed rebuttal to Strayhorn's reasons for blocking the payments to Cassidy, describing the comptroller's work as sloppy.

Walt noted that Strayhorn claimed Cassidy was paid $302,363 by the governor's office in 2004, but the payments actually were to a related company for tourism promotion.

She said Strayhorn also claimed she had "auditors on the ground" when she decided to freeze the Cassidy payments, but Walt said the auditors didn't arrive at the offices of state-federal relations until a day later.

Walt has defended the decision to hire outside lobbyists as good for the state in terms of bringing in extra federal dollars.
It's always good to see Republicans fighting over who is more corrupt. It also shows what a farcical campaign trick this whole event has been.


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Few Items

Q & A with Senator Ogden, next Tuesday:
The public is invited to the Rotary Club meeting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, March 28, at Cedar Park Methodist Church. Sen. Ogden will present a straightforward message and answer your questions. If you would like to eat breakfast with the Rotary, call Jack Spillman at 259-8034 and let him know you will attend.
Report from yesterday's House Corrections Committee hearing, Gallows humor:
Best Line:
"What's our prison population?" asked Chairman Madden. "Full," replied Connolly. Right now it's at 151,585, she said. "But there's an execution today," deadpanned Rep. Jim McReynolds, "so that's 151,584."
The lastest blog post from Barbara Ann Radnofsky at Capitol Annex:
Week of March 20-22: Highlights of this week so far included a spirited discussion with the Blackdems in Houston, and receiving their endorsement; many talks with vibrant and educated teachers; and planning for the opening of our office and endorsement announcements on Friday at one thirty.

I hope you'll come! Chris Bell will lead off with his endorsement at one thirty at our new campaign office in Houston at 1770 St. James Place just off of San Felipe and Chimney Rock.
And last but by now means least from the TFT's website on yesterday's "Fair Funding for Kids" summitt at the Capitol:
On TFT's behalf (Rena) Lara spoke out in support of a grass-roots agenda of "fair funding for kids," calling among other things for an across-the-board pay raise for teachers, across-the-board funding equity for schoolchildren statewide, and a reform of the tax structure to avoid undue burdens on working families and the indigent.
Check out their 6-point plan (.PDF).


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CHIP Architect Would Like To Make It Right Again

Former State Rep. Patricia Gray, who shepherded the landmark CHIP legislation through the House in 1999 is not happy with what has been done to it. The Austin Chronicle has the story, Chipping Away at CHIP. CHIP was instituted and working well and then in came the Republican majority and privatization:
The agency's (Health and Human Services) privatization plan calls for shuttering the state's community-based offices, firing thousands of workers, and replacing both with privately operated call centers to determine a person's eligibility for receiving CHIP benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social services.

This is not what the original architects of CHIP had in mind when they designed what was supposed to be a relatively user-friendly program for families who can't afford health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid. The state-funded program was set up to tap $423 million a year in federal matching funds to serve more than 500,000 eligible children.

The CHIP upheaval stems from the 2003 Legislature's two-pronged massacre of the state's health and human services programs, first with deep budget cuts (since partially restored) followed by a massive consolidation and overhaul of the state's health and social services. The changes wrought by that year's HB 2292, authored by former GOP Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, also opened up new contract opportunities for Accenture. Several states have hired Accenture to develop new electronic voter file systems or to manage state-funded social service programs. But Accenture's record on both fronts is shoddy at best. In the last two years, at least half a dozen states have fired the contractor for failing to deliver on its obligations.
More from Gray here:
"This notion that private business always does it better than government is just stupid," Gray said. "What we've done is create a whole new network of people who get the big money and then dole it out in little bits. We've just created another class of people who survive off taxpayer money."
Privatization is not the panacea it's been made out to be, there have been mixed results so far from Accenture in Texas. Our government is supposed to promote the general welfare of the people, not corporations.


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"One 'Selectively' Silent Grandma's" Campaign Strategy

Her campaign strategy appears not only to be to co-opt the Democratic candidates ideas, but she is also going to try and hold herself out as the clean, moralistic, sanctimonious, uncorrupt candidate to swing Republicans in Texas to her side. Case in point, yesterday's campaign stunt. OTG is trying to show she has gotten religion on this issue of Perry's cronyism. Phillip Martin at BOR has the story, An Open Letter to Comptroller Strayhorn. But she's only got a problem with some of Perry's corruption:
Yesterday, you/(OTG) announced that the Comptroller's office is indefinitely stopping the state'’s payments to the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates, the infamous lobby group that has lobbied Congress on behalf of the Office of State-Federal Relations. This action comes as a result of the audit you launched on Cassidy & Associates on January 27, 2006.

There's an expression that goes, "day late, dollar short." You are years late in acting, and your prolonged silence risked millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Your decision to stop payments is long overdue, and what's worse is that you're only doing half of what you should have done a long time ago. You still must stop the payments to Drew Maloney, the high-power lobbyist of the Federalist Group, who is also being paid with taxpayer dollars.
Why did she wait to do this until after the primaries? The point of the post is that she's been writing the checks the whole time and continued to after this was exposed in January. She could have stopped this from the beginning or certainly soon after it was exposed. No, in true OTG form she waited until it would benefit her the most to do what's right. More from BOR:
The public's trust can not be bought and sold with your cheap tricks any more than it can with Governor Perry's endless cronyism.

You remained silent until it benefited you and your campaign. As a proud Texas Democrat, I find your silence appalling. It is my sincere hope that you immediately take action on Drew Maloney's contract, and stop pretending you're "tough" for doing what you should have done a long, long time ago.
Well said.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Session Ahead

With the Republican Party in Texas lacking a single leader or anyone with the ability to bring all the factions within the party together it should come as no surprise to anyone that going into the upcoming session there is no consensus on what to do in the upcoming special session. As this article shows, Top 3 officials at odds over session, the so-called “Big 3” (Gov., Lt. Gov. & Speaker) can't agree on what needs to be done:
In a sure sign of political fireworks to come, the state's top political leaders parted ways Tuesday on how they perceive the Texas Legislature's mission for the special legislative session.
Oooh, fireworks. Anyway, here's a random sampling of what's being discussed before the session starts:
  • Just a tax swap to satisfy the Supreme Court (Perry)
  • A teacher pay raise
  • Reform the entire Texas public school system (Dewhurst)
  • Use the surplus now to satisfy the court and then revisit this in full during next year's regular session (Chisum, et al.)
Now we all know that the governor sees a tax cut as the manna he can give to his Republican base/disciples in order to seal his reelection deal in November. He needs this so bad that he even enlisted his once and again best friend and fellow Aggie John Sharp to lead a commission of cronies and business people to devise the best way to tax themselves.

David Dewhurst has ambition for higher office and is trying become a “uniter not a divider” - like someone else we know – by trying bring about something nobody has ever been able to do in Texas, a complete school finance overhaul, and he is one of the weakest Lt. Gov.'s in modern history. Probably not gonna work.

Speaker Craddick, with his House caucus in shambles, is going to have to try and form a coalition in the house out of lame ducks, scared incumbents and pro-voucher members in his own party. Good luck.

The question on the Republican side is...is there anyone in their party that wields a big enough stick or has enough power to bring these three guys together on a plan that they can then go and threaten the legislature to pass or else? Harvey Kronberg's latest at News 8 says there's two likely outcomes:
With failure not an option, there are two likely scenarios.

The first is the plan to expand business taxes developed by the Sharp Commission. It is the most ambitious of any of the offerings to date and has a lot to recommend it. Although the plan has not yet been finalized, it includes a low business tax rate and incentives for hiring and employee health care. It would also raise cigarette taxes.

As attractive as the plan may be, its opponents include a group of major law firms who are prepared to argue that it amounts to a personal income tax on partners. Mr. Sharp disagrees.

Another proposal by a group of lawmakers argues that you cannot pass a major tax bill when the state is enjoying a surplus of at least $4 billion which may balloon to as much as $8 billion next August. The money is not really a surplus, it is simply unspent cash that will be needed to fulfill financial commitments next year. But that may be a distinction without a difference for many voters and while it is only a temporary fix, it may be the most that this exhausted and politically bloodied legislature can do.
What will the solution be? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I believe the legislature will come up with something. They will not let the schools be shutdown, no matter what. That could mean buying down property taxes with the “surplus” and put off debate on school finance, again, this time until the 2007 regular session. Since the governor's call will be narrow, and I doubt if they get his property tax swap accomplished they will stick around or the governor will call another special session to deal with school finance in an election year. But remember a good percentage of the surplus is money that was set aside by the legislature last year for school funding which could be used for a teacher pay raise It was also built by taking from the least among us:
This surplus that Chisum and others are touting is less than meets the eye, however. For one thing, included in it are sums the legislature last year said would be reserved for education programs and personnel, not for tax cuts. Legislators also need to remember that the so-called surplus exists largely because of harsh cuts in compensation imposed on school employees in the 2003 legislative sessions--cuts that continue in effect today. And that's not to mention the other cuts in vital programs like children's health insurance.
Just a quick aside. For us here in Williamson County we don't have to worry because our two state representatives, Rep. Krusee and Rep. Gattis, will vote with the Speaker and the pro-voucher crowd like they always have. I've searched to find any kind of statement from either one of them on the upcoming session and can't find anything. (Of course the Godfather of Toll has better things to do). I'm sure if they did say anything it would be the tired ol' line of property taxes are too high, we need greater accountability, yada, yada, yada.

Inevitably, of course, in response to criticism like this the Republicans will say that the Democrats don't have a plan. My answer to that is what chance would a Democratic plan have in the Republican dominated legislature? Exactly, none. Those who say that should also remember that the only plan that got majority support last session was from Rep. Hochberg, a Democrat. Which just goes to show two things. We have a complete lack or leadership and ideas in today's Texas Republican Party and also Republicans hold the majority in every branch of government. That is something that every Democratic candidate for any office Federal, state and local need to make very clear. Republicans control Texas government and therefore they are to blame for the state of things in Texas.

[UPDATE]: Received this tip, Governor calls special session, via email I didn't check the TDP before posting, thanks for the tip:
Republican Representative Mike Krusee said he wants to see a solution that includes lower property taxes.

"Most importantly we have to meet the court's demand that we fix school finance," he said. "I hope while doing that we can lower property taxes dramatically. I think we can solve the school finance issue, lower property taxes and leave with a better, fairer tax system than when we started."

[...]

Krusee also said changes to the tax system were critical to finding the right solution.

"Some legislators are going to be attracted to not fixing tax system but using the surplus. I don't think that's a long term solution," he said. "I think next session the legislature will likely have a large surplus and it is my hope that surplus will fund further property tax decreases and a pay raise for teachers."


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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bell Calls For Teacher Pay Raise, Strayhorn Piggy-Backs

I found out about Chris Bell's plan to raise teacher pay yesterday from BOR, Chris Bell Calls For Teacher Pay Raise. Looked like a good idea and a great way to attack the governor who only wants to give a select few teachers a pay raise. You can also read about "Put the schools back in school finance":
Surrounded by local Democratic elected officials, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell accused Rick Perry of pursuing temporary solutions and ignoring schools in the run-up to the special session on school finance.

"Rick Perry'’s biggest priority is to pass a tax cut," said Bell, who helped pass a property tax cut on the Houston City Council. "My top priority is different. Texas can have the best public schools in the country, but only if we avoid a fiscal 'sugar rush' that would use $1 billion from the budget surplus to soothe our craving for a tax cut at the expense of a balanced revenue diet for our schools."
Who were those local elected officials?
Big thanks to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos for introducing him, as well as state Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez, city council members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell, Constable Bruce Elfant, and state senate candidate Kathi Thomas for lending their support.
The SAEN has a good wrap-up, Bell says tax cut won't fix schools:
Simply using a budget surplus to reduce school property taxes during a coming special legislative session would be like "a sugar rush" without fixing the state's school funding system, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell said Monday.

[...]

"Texas can have the best public schools in the country, but only if we avoid a fiscal sugar rush that would use the budget surplus to soothe our craving for a tax cut at the expense of a balanced revenue diet for our schools," Bell said.

[...]

"If you are proposing revenue-neutral ideas, you are basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," Bell said. "We need more money coming into our state coffers."
Bell did this at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Austin, that's right a union hall, I doubt you'll see OTG hanging out there anytime soon. I hope teacher's union members see and hear that! But from what I can tell Chris Bell brought this up first yesterday as this DMN/AP article shows:
Earlier Monday, Democratic nominee Chris Bell called on Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry to give all Texas teachers a $6,000 pay raise.
No matter, the DMN/AP saw fit to give OTG top billing in there story and hardly even mentioned Bell. I guess this is the kind of treatment from the press Chris Bell will have to expect over the coming campaign. He comes out with a great idea and the liberal Texas media will drown it out by either Kinky with an open beer, OTG piggy-backing or Gov. Perry with a bad hair day.

One last thing on the teacher pay raise. From today's AAS Gardner Selby does his best to show that those challenging the governor are just playing politics with teacher pay. The funny part is how he tries to do that. By quoting defeated incumbent and still chair of the House Public Education Committee Rep. Kent Grusendorf:
Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, sniffed politics in the pay proposals.

Grusendorf, who lost his re-election bid last month to Diane Patrick, a GOP challenger backed by teacher groups, said of the proposers: "They're in a bidding war for the teacher vote." He said: "Aw, let's give them $10,000. It's not my money anyway, what do I care?"

Grusendorf said: "Our best teachers are underpaid. We have to try to find a way to solve that." But, he said, lawmakers should focus in the 30-day session on answering the Texas Supreme Court's judgment that schools are too dependent on property taxes.
Only "our best teacher are underpaid", he says. I wonder how he determines who "our best" teachers are? Call me crazy but if I'm Gov. Perry I'd be trying to find some common ground with Texas teachers. One way to do that would be to replace Rep. Grusendorf for the upcoming special session with someone who is a little more friendly with Texas teachers. Obviously I'm not Gov. Perry and that would also take cooperation from Speaker Craddick. But that would probably go a long way and since we know Rep. Grusendorf is not friendly to teachers, help the governor politically.


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The Blackland Coalition Is Holding A Forum For The Candidates For Governor...

...and guess who hasn't responded?
Gubernatorial Candidates: Bell, Friedman and Strayhorn confirmed to speak on TransTexas Corridor and Eminent Domain

March 24, Seaton Star Hall (5 Mi. East of Temple on Hwy 53 - 10842 State Hwy 53, Temple, Texas 76501), 7:00-9:00 PM, the Blackland Coalition will hold a meeting open to the public and interested parties. All four candidates running for Governor of the State of Texas were invited to speak, only Rick Perry has not responded. Chris Bell (D), Kinky Friedman (I) and Carole Strayhorn (I), candidates for the office of Governor will speak on the issues and impact of the proposed TransTexas Corridor and Eminent Domain. Time permitting, a limited number of written questions from the audience will be addressed.

Blackland Coalition will present information regarding the status of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and the process for filing comments and objections by the public.

Seaton Star Hall SPJST will open at 5:30 PM - BBQ and refreshments will be sold. Meeting begins at 7:00 PM.

Blackland Coalition is organized to educate, protect and defend Texans against the TransTexas Corridor.
Come and give a listen to what a governor not named Rick Perry will do about the Trans-Texas Corridor and Eminent Domain.


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